Zero is Beautiful: Teaching Mathematics as if People Mattered

19 Feb

Can you imagine the time before the discovery of zero? My husband and I got a glimpse of this when we witnessed the discovery of zero, not on the world-historical scale, but by our two-year-old daughter.

It was not an easy road. Counting had come uneventfully, but when numbers became numerals and the number 10 appeared on the page not with its own symbol, but with a 1 and 0, suddenly everything had changed. Till that moment, in her world it was still possible to have a system of enumeration like the one used by Ireneo Funes in Borges’ story, “Funes the Memorius.” Funes gives every number its own unique name. He has “an infinite vocabulary for the natural series of numbers” and no use for the concept of place value.

When our daughter saw that the numeral 10 comprised a 1 and a 0 she flung herself upon a chair and cried. We were taken aback, unprepared for the blow this dealt to her understanding of number and how she would struggle to make sense of it.

This was the struggle of an artist. The world had changed in a fundamental way. Something was lost that would never return. Why would there be a zero in the number ten? Till now the numerical representations were incidental to the concept of number, of quantity, of this thing that could go on forever …. and had now abruptly, jarringly, come back to zero.

Some time later, she confronted a blankness of another kind. In tears, she ran towards me holding a white crayon. It didn’t show up on the paper, she cried. “Therefore I am throwing away the white crayon,” she declared painfully. Her eyes brimming over pleaded for a way out of this harsh sentence. I drew something with the white crayon and painted with water color on top of it The water color surrounded the crayon image to reveal it. Saved! In its own way, the white crayon was a place holder.

We often hear people describe the joy and exultation of mathematics, but rarely the pain and suffering, arising not from inability, but rather from the wholehearted engagement with the ideas in all their beauty and tragedy. Immense was my gratitude when I came across a mathematician who wrote:

Mathematics is the music of reason. To do mathematics is to engage in an act of discovery and conjecture, intuition and inspiration; to be in a state of confusion— not because it makes no sense to you, but because you gave it sense and you still don’t understand what your creation is up to; to have a breakthrough idea; to be frustrated as an artist; to be awed and overwhelmed by an almost painful beauty; to be alive, damn it.

– Paul Lockhart, A Mathematician’s Lament

A few days later, our daughter explained to us that “in the number 10, the zero stands for 9 numbers. In the number 100, the two zeros stand for 99 numbers.”

So if you had to subtract, say 6 from 10, you could subtract it from 9 (instead of from 0) and then add the 1 to get the correct answer. Of course no one would ever do this because when you start doing single-digit subtraction you have your 10 fingers and no zeros are involved. But try it in 2 digits:

If you have to subtract 42 from 100, you could just subtract it from 99 (instead of from 00) and then add the 1. We didn’t do that either because by the time she started doing subtraction on paper, her resistance to zero was long forgotten and she learned to “borrow.” Funny word, but arithmetic can be funny that way. More importantly, it doesn’t matter that we didn’t use her method to subtract. What matters is that she thought about it and explained the solution to her problem.

* * *

How often do we get a chance to appreciate the creative, expressive side of mathematics? Too often, people see it as a mechanical process and if at all they believe in the beauty and thrill of mathematics they perhaps feel it comes only to those who master its mechanics to a highly advanced level. Passionately opposing this approach to teaching mathematics, Paul Lockhart, who teaches in St. Ann’s School in New York, wrote an essay called “A Mathematician’s Lament.” First circulated privately, it was eventually published by the Mathematical Association of America, followed by a sequel, and expanded into a small book.

Lockhart says: “I want [students] to understand that there is a playground in their minds and that that is where mathematics happens.” He insists that mathematics is an art:

… if the world had to be divided into the “poetic dreamers” and the “rational thinkers” most people would place mathematicians in the latter category.

Nevertheless, the fact is that there is nothing as dreamy and poetic, nothing as radical, subversive, and psychedelic, as mathematics. It is every bit as mind blowing as cosmology or physics (mathematicians conceived of black holes long before astronomers actually found any), and allows more freedom of expression than poetry, art, or music (which depend heavily on properties of the physical universe). Mathematics is the purest of the arts, as well as the most misunderstood.

Lockhart wants children to have the opportunity to observe mathematicians at work, practicing mathematics, the way they see musicians sing or artists paint. He also wishes that it would be taught along with its social and historical context, so that we could explore such questions as: why did these mathematicians discover these things at these times in these places? Because the people, not only their formulae, matter.

In spite of mounting pressures to the contrary, teachers like Lockhart are doing what they can to bring humanity and adventure into the classroom. Lockhart urges teachers to play games such as chess, go, hex, to do puzzles, and be willing to get their hands messy and express their ideas through math:

Mathematics is an art, and art should be taught by working artists, or if not, at least by people who appreciate the art form and can recognize it when they see it.

Observing children learn gives us a second chance to appreciate mathematics as an art form. Even one such moment of struggle with the meaning of zero can inspire confidence in our capacity to probe the depths of ideas … if we are allowed that moment.

As artists have urged us to stop telling children what color to use or where to draw, we must also allow for creative expression in the discovery of numbers. We ought to refrain from intruding into the pre-numerate state with our preconceived notions and allow every child to investigate from scratch as if the world had not yet settled on a numbering system, adding system, dimensional system and so on. Would we want to skip the stage when little ones make up their own words and move expeditiously to standardized language? If we delight in the words and usages invented by our little ones, it is because we are so confident in our own language that we are free to tinker with it, to produce as well as consume.

A friend’s toddler started counting, “2, 2, 2, 2 …” At least, it sounded like counting. We may not always get it. But if we believe there is something there to get, we won’t rush to “correct” it. And if we believe in our children’s capacity to puzzle things out we won’t be tempted to give away the ending. Recently, our daughter struggled with the concept of negative exponents. A few days later she extended Cookie Monster’s song “One cookie and one cookie makes two cookies” up to 256 and used it to explain powers of 2. It goes for negative powers as well, “1 cookie and 2 people makes ½ cookie …” (Per person is understood.) When we share such stories we find that every parent has one – or many. Indeed, this kind of thing becomes commonplace when you recognize that math is everywhere.

Shapes and patterns in nature, ideas in our mind, games we play, doodling we do, rhythms we tap all lead us to mathematical discovery. As Lockhart says,

If everyone were exposed to mathematics in its natural state, with all the challenging fun and surprises that that entails, I think we would see a dramatic change both in the attitude of students toward mathematics, and in our conception of what it means to be “good at math.”

Practicing mathematics as an art form is nice work if you can get it. Vi Hart, who calls herself a mathemusician, shares her artwork through Khan Academy and her Youtube channels. Kjartan Poskitt’s series Murderous Maths contains stories full of historical and imaginary characters involved in various mishaps and misadventures, using plenty of math, which the author explains along the way. Popular internet sites like Numberphile air fascinating math puzzles and problems, with guest mathematicians from universities and research institutes around the world. What these artists have in common is that it is hard to watch or read their work without wanting to try it out yourself.

What if you never meet such artist-mathematicians? If I were to paraphrase Picasso, I might say that every child is an artist-mathematician. The problem is how to remain an artist-mathematician once we grow up.


Works Cited:

Jorge Luis Borges, “Funes, The Memorius,” in Ficciones, translated by Emecé Editores. New York: Grove Press, 1962, pp. 107 ff. Accessed online at http://www4.ncsu.edu/~jjsakon/FunestheMemorious.pdf

Vi Hart, on Khan Academy, http://www.khanacademy.org/math/recreational-math/vi-hart

Paul Lockhart, A Mathematician’s Lament, 2002. Published by Mathematical Association of America in 2008. Accessed online at https://www.maa.org/external_archive/devlin/devlin_03_08.html | Selected Excerpts: One Real Teacher

Numberphile, http://www.numberphile.com

Kjartan Poskitt, Murderous Maths published by Scholastic, Inc. Website at http://murderousmaths.co.uk/

Knowledge is wilder than we think

11 Feb

I heard someone a while back insist that ‘unschooling is a bad idea’, and that those children unfortunate enough to have parents who didn’t ‘educate’ them wouldn’t know subjects like ‘geology, math, and sociology’. Of course, what escaped his critique were his own assumptions about knowledge and its merits.

We’ve been tempted into believing that knowledge is a tame thing – a thing we can underline, categorize, discipline, control and appreciate only when grouped into headings and subheadings. And it is. When we construct knowledge as the inescapable product of disciplinarity, we tend to perpetuate people who are passive, bored, listless and disempowered; we tend to extend the lifespan of a civilization that feeds off the existential magnificence of its citizens, replacing questions with homework, replacing play with ‘playtime’, replacing learning with curricula, replacing the joy of living with the imperative to be productive. Within the boundaries of disciplinarity, the only way to access the world is via a power system that actively resists our spontaneous urges to inquire about our world and our particular interests about it. We learn to see ourselves and appreciate ourselves through grades and predetermined outcomes. Our bursts of curiosity are quarantined, labelled and silenced – and then replaced with an ‘unnaturally’ linear trajectory of learning that has nothing to do with our own questions and emerging life paths.

And yet, knowledge is not all this.

Consider the possibility that knowledge is wilder than we think. Even more radically, consider the possibility that there is no such ‘thing’ as knowledge – that what we collectively perceive as knowledge are culturally efficacious aspects of experience that often serve collective visions of the world. If we see knowledge not as a ‘thing’, an object ‘out there’ that we strive to capture through practice, but as an epiphenomenon of our own stories, then what changes? Disciplined and academic knowledge does serve in certain ways, especially in ways that do not allow for flights of fancy…ways that perpetuate a mechanization of society. The logic of unschooling defeats this programme of rationalization, however. It sidesteps hierarchical disciplinarity, and restores trust in the ability of children to learn without being dragged into assembly lines or rewarded with A’s. It makes knowledge subversive to the dictates of State and imperial might. By removing learning away from the bailiwick of classroom management, away from the politics of correctness, away from the industry-set objectives of ‘getting a job’, learning is truly liberated. Geology, in a sense, has little to do with stones and dirt; but it has everything to do with the commodification of our experience of them, the standardization of perceptions.

Going through school is not an adventure in learning per se; that’s probably not the concern of most people who send their kids to school. They send them often because they are scared they won’t get a job eventually; they are scared because their own schooling experience has conditioned them into accepting that the experience of industrial education is not only necessary to being well and alive, but that it is inevitable…

Homeschooling at Chennai

10 Feb

Sangeetha Sriram and Hema Jain, two homeschooling parents from Chennai, shared their thoughts and stories on a radio programme on Radio One Chennai. The programme was a mix of English and Tamil and it was superb! Do tune in and share your thoughts with all of us.

The audio has also been posted on Swashikshan TV on youtube. Please click here to view the video.

 

The power of open schooling

25 Dec

Here is the transcript of my speech given at the National Institute of Open Schooling’s 25th Anniversary celebrations at Chennai, where I was recognised as the all-India topper for the Senior Secondary April 2013 exams.

Each time I open an NIOS textbook, I am greeted with the words – “Congratulations! You have accepted the challenge to be a self-learner. NIOS is with you at every step…”

I am happy because here in my hand is a powerful tool to follow my dreams.

My story is not an unusual one. I do not have any exceptional sporting talent — like Vandana here — and nor is mine a tale of academic rags-to-riches. But like any other person of my age, I have some interests that I wished to explore, not after ‘settling down in life’ (does this ‘settling down’ ever get completed?) but right now, as a child. NIOS helped me to pursue these interests in two ways: one, by studying the subjects of my choice – Economics, History, Accounts and Psychology. Secondly, by allowing me to study at my own pace, I was able to pursue interests that were non-academic but equally important to me.

Normal schooling would not have allowed me to pursue this self-directed experiment in education. And it is for this reason that NIOS plays a very important role in education and society. It gives us children leverage over our lives.

On one hand, NIOS has helped young prodigies to work towards their pursuits without missing out on formal academic education. On the other hand it has helped learners with difficulties in reaching their academic goals. But in between the ends of this spectrum there are so many children like you and me who do not wish to stay in the school system — not because we cannot cope with it, but because we do not want to. We believe and aspire for an education outside the four walls of authority and convention.

There are so many people like us who do not thrive in the conventional system, but do not know that they have another option. And it is for this reason that each of us must become personal ambassadors of NIOS. Whenever I explain the concept of NIOS to anybody, more often than not, they say, ”Wow, I didn’t even know that such a great framework exists!”

We have to spread the word about the power of open schooling!

As we all know, many innovative and informal learning models have been set up in the country. They are being built in the metro’s slums and in the minority communities. They are being set up by people who teach simply out of the love to teach. These models are not striving to be schools, and are educating people successfully just the same. If we could hand over the tool of open schooling to these people, I have no doubt that their effectiveness will increase manifold.

It is no small achievement to be the largest open schooling system in the world. But we still have a long way to go; fortunately for us, the road ahead is well-defined. We need to strengthen our contact and information centres. As we heard today about NIOS being taken to minority groups, unskilled workers, rural learners, we understand that it can be integrated it into people’s larger needs of learning, career and life in so many different ways. We need to spread the word, NOW, never knowing who is going to benefit from it!

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Mr.Ravi, Chennai Regional Director, NIOS, all our chief guests, and NIOS at the Centre. Most of all, I’d like to thank my wonderful family for letting me fly.

Indian Homeschoolers Conference 2014

23 Dec

The much awaited second Indian Homeschoolers Conference (IHC ’14) is here – a gathering of like minded souls at Khandala to share their experiences, learn from each other and rejoice the company of the amazing homeschooling community.

If you have not been to the conference before and want to know more about the experience please read last years report – Reflecting back at the Indian Homeschoolers Conference!.  There is one more article, written by Aravinda,  about the last years conference that one can read – Khandala and the Yule-tide Spirit

The venue for the conference is St. Mary’s Villa, Khandala and the dates are 21st – 25th February, 2014 (Friday – Tuesday).

Click here to REGISTER for the conference

Payment and registration details of the conference are as follows:

  1. The conference fee is Rs.2,500/- per person
  2. This includes all meals, activities, sessions art and craft materials etc. during the conference
  3. The fee is the same whether you attend for some or all five days
  4. No charge and no bed for children aged 3 years and under
  5. Please put any accomodation related requests ONLY in the registration form.
  6. For those coming for only one day it will be Rs.700/-. This does not include charges for night stay. Participants who want to stay on will have to register in advance and pay the entire conference charges
  7. All advances are non refundable
  8. Payments (Rs. 2500 per person) to be made to –
    • Nikhil Trivedi in Mumbai
    • Jaydeep and Nandita Deostale in Goa
    • Participants from rest of India need to transfer Rs. 500/- (per person) online and make balanace payment on arrrival
  9. If you would like to contribute to offset expenses for others with financial constraints, or if you need to apply for assistance, please also contact us.

For any further queries please mail us at india.homeschoolers.conference@gmail.com or call/sms Nandita Deosthale at +91 9764006746. Please note that it may not be possible for us to respond instantly but we will get back to you in reasonable time.

People who are exploring homeschooling but not actually practicing will be welcome on Sunday 23rd. We will hold special FAQ sessions only on that day. You are also welcome to join all sessions and activities on that day.

Say NO to fireworks but not to fire experiments!

16 Dec

My son Megh, eight and a half, and I were lying on the floor and talking of fireworks, during the festival season of Diwali. I told him about my childhood and how crazy I was for fireworks. I told him I would run for more fireworks as soon as the earlier lot was used up. I told him that in my time parents were not aware of the issues of safety, pollution, child labor etc. associated with firecrackers and how my father never stopped me from buying them. I told him fireworks were not so expensive like they are now and yet people did not buy too much and there was not much variety and imported Chinese fireworks.

Then we both saw the Facebook Page about ‘Say No to Fireworks’. I was reading but I found he was not much interested. We were going through a phase of what I like to call ‘Fireworks Dilemma’. We don’t like fireworks for so many reasons, Ashna who is now 12 left it since she was seven. But Megh loves to experiment with fire and he I still under the spell of the magic of fireworks. I shared with him all my concerns about fireworks.He said, he didn’t want too many and he was not very fussy about what he got. I told hime how fussy I was and I threw tantrums for fireworks. I told him I was ‘Jiddi’ (stubborn). He was laughing!

We saw a video about ‘science behind fireworks’. We saw the same video last year too and had talked about why the video announces, ‘Don’t Try at Home’. He understands issues like safety, pollution, child labor, etc. connected with fireworks but is helpless against that Magic. This time he bought fireworks worth Rs 1000. But he also tried to make at home. He made crackers using match sticks. He collected match-sticks heads and powdered them and tried mixing it with Epsom, salt, washing powder etc. I know he is going to empty many more match boxes making his crackers in the future.

I could say ‘No’ to fireworks but couldn’t say ‘No’ to child’s curiosity and amazement. I see how I can support him by supervising and making him aware safety measures but can’t impose my belief on him, that fireworks are bad.

Healing Relationships, Healing Mother Earth

23 Sep

Twenty one years ago, a princess of the flowers was born to me.  My friend gazed down upon the little baby and declared her princess of the stars.  We laughingly agreed that she was a star-flower princess.   Sahya knew nothing about our secret, yet, three years later, she returned from a walk in my ancestral village, and presented my friend with a flower in the shape of a star.

Children are magic.  They are unique, marvelous, beautiful!  They hold great promise and potential.  We did too.  We forget that we were children once.  Do you remember what it was like to feel the feeling of infinite possibilities?

I am tempted at this point to go on a tirade of how over the centuries the ‘powers that be’ have perfected a psychological manipulation of the minds of the masses, instilling fears of various kinds and on many levels, that sit deep in our psyche and more or less decide the way we live our lives, pretending that we have choices; and how the systems and structures of urban life have imprisoned our bodies and our way of life in a stranglehold of oppression.  But here I will restrain myself, for there is enough written and spoken on this.  Talking about it only perpetuates what we can strive to transform.  Is it an illusion or not?  Are these all mental constructs that we can de construct and re construct?

As my little girl grew up, I found myself becoming a more and more demanding perfectionist.  I tried to mould her in to my idea of how a good girl should behave; to feed her my idea of a perfect diet; engage her in my idea of healthy activities to build body, mind and spirit.  We went out doors in the mornings and evenings, I read her good books, we listened to good music.  When she awoke, I would carry her to the windows and balconies and say good morning to the sun, the trees, the earth, the flowers, the clouds…I would care for her skin, her hair, her body, her clothes…My life was all wrapped around my little girl.

Four and a half years later, my son, Rayn was born.  He was a Chhota Bhim (a character from Indian mythology who was very strong and powerful). I never felt so torn in my life.  I could not bear to be apart from Sahya to go to hospital.  After many hours of labour, the doctor insisted I go for a caesarian section for the safety of the child.  This meant I had to stay in hospital longer till the stitches healed.  My husband John, my mother and a friend took great care of Sahya, along with his extended family support, but I continued to feel broken hearted at being separated.  At last, when I reached home I was re united with my little family, and it felt very fulfilling.  I went  through the same internal tugging of my heart strings when my second son, Niom was born, in some ways less intense because I knew that Sahya,  Rayn and John were together, but in other ways more, as I could not give myself wholly to the new baby, as I had two other little ones constantly requiring attention.  By this time I had no energy or imagination left.  Niom was just Niom.  (And what a Niom he turned out to be!)

This is a very minor trauma in comparison to the terrible traumas many children go through.  But please be patient with me, and throughout this article please ignore the inconsistencies and any theories that are not researched.  The aim of this piece is to open up different ways of thinking about learning and ways of being as individuals, families, communities and societies.

The reasons I narrated the above story are multi-layered.  Many mothers go through such emotional challenges and much worse.  Many children are put through separation anxiety repeatedly during their childhood.  These kinds of repeated experiences cause a fragmentation within, that have far reaching consequences.  In our personal lives we feel a void that is something like a bottomless pit.  When we come across human pain and suffering, our sensors seem cauterized.  We become needy, and both manipulative and open to manipulation by people and systems.  The deepest wound  of which we are usually unaware, is our separation from nature, Mother Earth herself.

Had I been a tribal woman, my children would have been born in my hut, the other children sleeping or playing nearby.  The children would have been born close to the earth, not several storeys up, placed in metal beds.  The first sights, sounds, fragrances and experiences would have been holistic and natural.  They would have so many close connections with people, animals, insects and plants, that separation anxiety would belong to some strange and unbelievable reality, in fact, quite unreal.

Earlier, I mentioned how I turned in to a demanding perfectionist, trying to mould Sahya to my idea of life.  This intensified with the birth of Rayn.  It is only when Niom was born, that I could not hold it together any longer.  The more I tried, the more impossible it became.  I started feeling that horrible feeling where everything is slipping away from my control, and that all my plans and projections were repeatedly being reduced to nothing.  Many fights and crises later, that de escalated in to arguments and finally in to discussions, I realized that my whole ‘trip’ had been an ‘ego trip’.  I had wanted the children to be a reflection of me as a great mother.  I was not really concerned with who they were inside, and what their journey on earth was meant to be.

Back to ‘if I had been a tribal woman’, I would not have had this type of ‘ego’.   I would have had a primordial type attachment to my children that would naturally thin as they matured.  I would not have had any psychological damage to visit upon them.  I would not have added to the void that is caused by birth traumas and other socially sanctioned traumas.

Then began a journey of deep watching, listening and sensing.  I started to perceive more deeply the very being of my children, and through them, of my husband and myself.  From being concerned with the distractions of the externals of the children and of the world, I began an inward journey.  Inner healing began.  I started to be led to, and drawn towards people, books, situations, films, knowledge that supported my inward journey.  Insights particular to myself and my immediate world came from apparently nowhere.  My emotions began to mellow and my fears disintegrate.  Certain practices became a part of my life that helped clarify and purify energy.  Gradually, people got drawn to me, and I was able to connect people who were good for each other.  My husband John too, chose to no longer continue in his dental profession, and stepped in to the unknown. I began to feel like life was happening through the body, the body being a sort of vehicle.

A feeling took hold in my heart that if I could take this experiment outside the family, to wider groups and communities, the ripple effect could create a tidal wave of change.  I came out of my cocoon to speak once a month about homeschooling and unschooling.  These talks led to invitations to talk to groups. Though I noticed a great fear about future financial stability among parents, within three years there was a huge surge in numbers of families beginning to homeschool in India.  The first discussion groups, websites and blogs appeared.  I had been interviewed once in a while over the years by major newspapers before Niom was even born, but now, articles appeared in fourteen papers in just one year alone!  This may sound like I was the cause of the sudden surge in homeschooling in the country, but actually it is more like its time had come, and homeschooling, learning societies (mentioned below), and I, got connected simultaneously.

Learning Societies unConference, which is a nationwide annual gathering and an online discussion list connecting groups of communities of rethinkers, holistic healers, learners of all ages, seekers, organic farmers, people in social media, homeschoolers, unschoolers, alternative educators, activists, explorers and people involved in experimenting with life and ways of being. This was very exciting for me, as I could be with increasing numbers of people, groups of people and communities who were creating living learning spaces outside of the existing manipulative systems.

Part of me was carried away with the stories of the way of life of indigenous people that I heard from people in Learning Societies unConference.  Part of me started to wonder why these peaceful people were always wiped out or dominated by aggressive nations.  Did they not have the spiritual strength to transform violence?  When I spoke excitedly about aspects of tribal community life, skeptics would tell me not to glamourize their way of living which was actually very hard. I realized that a major reason for human ‘progress’ is to make things easier: locomotion, barter, protection, storage…so where did emotions like greed for things, money and power emerge?  Where did today’s structures and systems that fragment our psyche, fragment our wholeness, separate us from each other and Mother Nature, originate? There are many theories and hypotheses that attempt to answer these questions, but I am not as bothered about the probable causes as I am with some probable solutions.

The structures and systems were created for the convenience of the ruler(s); dividing people in to rulers and servers or servants.  Democracy does not really give the servers choices.  A friend, Jinan, points to literacy as the cause of this fragmentation.  It causes us to be unnaturally mind heavy, ignoring the being. For the purpose of putting forward my probable solutions, let us assume this to be true.

If we assume this to be true, that the most fundamental separation happens within; that words and ideas literally take over the mind and create a separate kingdom, that dominates the being, we can begin to understand how ego and different types of greed dominate our own selves. Psychological manipulation through media messages especially igniting emotions, becomes a key to a few people controlling the whole world.   We are one consciousness.  Our inner environment is reflected in the outer environment.  Even ‘good guys’ operate from ego and a type of greed.  Even if we are full of heartfelt intentions, we lead with our mind, which, through separation from the being has become the house of ego and different types of greed.  Our emotions are easily manipulated by words and ideas.  We are all one consciousness.  It is not a question of liberating oppressed people from oppressors.  It is a question of liberation of all human beings from the stranglehold of word ideas (mind).  In that sense we are both the oppressors and the oppressed.

I am not saying that we go back to tribal life or illiteracy (though it is interesting that the Kogi tribe sent us a message through the documentary film “From the Heart of the World”, and they have rejected literacy.  A few of them are selected to become leaders, for which they have to spend nine years in a dark cave.  They become leaders only after nine years of deep inner work.)  We are complex beings, with imagination and creativity.  The questions we have to explore are how do we learn from indigenous people how to remain whole, connected and un fragmented, within the self and together in community and with all earth.  Starting from birth practices, how we communicate with each other (less words), how we learn (education system), how we resolve conflicts (legal systems), how we heal (medical systems), how we organize our societies (political systems and financial systems). And here I have already contradicted myself.  For if we start to question these, and come up with answers from our ego (greedy) minds, we will no doubt come up with ‘better’ solutions that will end up being new wine in old casks, and will only be a more sophisticated version of the same soup.  The transformation will have to start from within.  For the outer world is just a reflection of the inner environment.

For me, the first work is of healing the fragmentation inside. However, this becomes a bit chicken and egg, as I see a lot of struggle to begin, and then sustain inner work, while grappling with survival with the current systems, especially money systems in play.  Still, I like to be optimistic.  My own journey with money is a long story on its own.  I feel we should  speak about money more, explore new ways of looking at and thinking about money, and get really open minded, open hearted and creative in our way of living and being.

Becoming whole is now more about healing emotionally, physically, creating a lifestyle that is integrated and sustainable.  For this we need to simultaneously create systems that are humane and life affirming, that help all life thrive and flourish, which will originate and manifest from the centre of our Whole Being(s) rather than only our mind ideas (though it will include our mind ideas).

One important practical challenge that comes to me that needs to be overcome that will go a long way to address this void inside that is almost universal, is a symbiotic generation and flow of love of self and other, and between self and other.  I find that we have grown up with so much criticism, that everyone, the whole human race today is too low on a feeling of self worth, for the health of the individual and all life on earth.  (Extroverts seem high in self esteem, but it may not necessarily be so.  They are still hiding the void inside.  This is evident from other behaviours they exhibit.)  The void is according to me nearly universal.  It can be filled with love.  And love is a funny thing, one can give it only if one has it, and one can have it, if one can give it.  Our work on this earth today is to conjure love up almost from nowhere and somehow fill ourselves and each other up with love.  In my practical experience, one way to start is to stop being critical and judgmental of the self and other.

How can citizens and governments, nations, corporations etc. communicate and negotiate with the deep understanding required for humane institutions, unless we figure this out on an individual, family, community and local level?  We are one consciousness.  To understand the other, we must understand the self.  The relationship with the other is vital for healing.  Healing of our close relationships will heal each self, which in turn will heal the planet.  Can we see each person in our lives who seem to be there randomly, by chance and sometimes by choice (as in our chosen spouses), to be our principle teachers?  And can we see that the only subject we must major in is love?

Is it possible to be really very good to yourself and those closest to you; to grow a big healthy happy sense of self?  For too long we have lived with an attitude of miserliness and poverty on all levels, not just monetary.  It is time to be courageous, generous and creative with self included.  Open the whole being to Infinite Possibilities and human potential beyond imagination.

Can you see the star flower prince and princess you were born as?  Can you see the jewel in your loved one?  In each and everyone?  In the person you hate the most? Can you see the importance of seeing this in everyone?  There is great healing potential in personal relationships.  One good healthy relationship in each life can heal each other and Mother Earth.

That was meant to be the end of the paper, but I wish to add:

When I read this article to my family, through the feedback I realized that I started from a heart space and real experience, and ended up in the head.  Another thing I realized is that my meaning has not come across, and that is the need for support and to support.  I have spoken a lot about love, but not about support.  It is with my family’s help, support and love that I am able to heal the fragmentation within me and without.  They hold a mirror up for me to see myself.  They catch me in inconsistencies and contradictions.  But they do it with the utmost love and care, which helps me feel held. This is my hope and prayer for everyone. Let these primary love and support systems grow in to larger support systems at the local level, including all our needs, gradually decreasing dependence on the larger machinery.  A sort of connecting web that is personal, global and natural.  This is my hope and prayer for the world.

Let us close our eyes for a moment, leave this swirl of words and ideas, breathe deeply and reach a place of silence inside.  Allow your breath to settle into its natural rhythm.  Become aware of that rhythm.

After a few moments, when you feel ready, gently open your eyes.

***

This article was submitted as a paper for online Homeschool Conference 2013. It is not a product of academic research, but a combination of learning from a deep engagement with life and personal experiences. Some words like ‘ego’, ‘self esteem’ and ‘tribals’ are used loosely without any attempt to define them objectively. I have attempted to make my subjective meaning clear through the context within which these words appear. I like to call myself a Whole Being Learner, which means that mind learning is integrated with sensory and practical experiences (and possibly more parts of the being that I am not yet aware of!)  It’s not like I am a learned being who is telling everyone what’s right and what’s not.  My learning is all jumbled inside me, and when I write or speak or share, it is my attempt at getting small patches of my learning un entangled sufficiently enough to further my own learning, (and anyone else who is interested), and to progress  towards the next small patch of clarity.  

The paper makes an assumption that today’s structures and systems are the cause of fragmentation within and disconnection without. It encourages us to support and love each other in at least one primary relationship, and also in localized groups. To begin, we can practice being non judgmental and critical. The assumption is that these close connections will heal the self and mother earth, as our outer world is but a reflection of our inner environment.

How do I explain Unschooling to skeptics?

24 Aug

When I decided to present a paper for The Homeschool Conference (http://www.homeschoolconference.com), I was not sure what would be the theme of the paper. Each day for a month I sat down at my lap top and opened a blank word document and stared at the screen, with nothing coming forth for me to write. The earlier me, which was a paranoid, perfectionist, professional, wanting to excel, ‘kind of human being’ would have given up and shelved the idea or lost sleep over it and would have cursed myself for not being good enough. But hey I am none of those now. Unschooling my two children, Gourika, 11 and Ishaan 7, changed that old me of mine!

People often ask me what is unschooling and why don’t I send my children to school. There was this old me again which would go on a rampage of blaming the school system and the modern education systems each time this question was asked of me. But hey now I can just smilingly say, “oh we just love to be in each other’s company, doing all the things we like to do at and in the comfort of our homes, stepping out only for those things that really drive us or we are passionate about. Schools are great but they don’t suit our unique needs and desires.”

Those who see us perfectly happy alone and in each other’s company, often curiously ask, “What about socialization?” The old lonely and angry me would have gone on a rant of how cruel the world is and who needs to be around people who hate who we are anyway. But hey now I joyfully say, “We are learning to be fully there with our own thoughts, emotions, feelings, moods so that we may better understand who we truly are and what it means to be fully ourselves without the pressure to conform to social conditions that come from teachers and peers. We are spending enough time with our own minds and focusing lesser on what impressions my mind will catch from social, cultural, educational inputs that are born of someone else’s mind, so that we learn to be fully and consciously aware of the roots of our thoughts and actions.” I recently was fortunate to attend a talk by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and he said, “The modern education system gives no value to the mind and its nature. There is no value given to the understanding of emotions and feelings. No education is wholesome without the understanding of the nature of the mind.” I felt happy and peaceful to be validated by the greatest soul of our times.

My children spend a lot of time with each other and at home with me. They have no choice but to face, walk through, resolve and learn from conflicts that surface in each of us. We learn the communication tools needed to stay in harmony and balance with each other. My children know their energies so well that they socialize not under any peer pressure but only when they feel heart to heart connections and when they feel drawn by interests in each other’s passion and life. So they surprise the most skeptical of adults when they start a conversation with them or engage in play with a child much younger or older than them in age. I feel children who feel safe and secure to be themselves fully and express their emotions fully without being judged at home, are often the ones who go out there and forge harmonious relationships with people outside family.

My response seems so unreal to most that their next question is often meant to throw me off balance. “But do you think watching television and sitting in front of the computer or toying with the iPad will help them in gaining any knowledge?” The earlier ‘fearful of multimedia mother’, who looked at TV as the idiot box would have gone on a sleepless guilt trip and imagined her children watching violence and pornography on TV and internet and would have nightmares about her children growing up to be mass murderers who shoot school children with guns! But hey now this peaceful with ‘all things are learning tools for my children’, mother says, my son learns about the world from surfing the internet. He has knowledge of history, geography, geology, gemology, astronomy, architecture, paleontology, cosmos, global warming, scientific phenomenon, films, animation, art, cooking, numbers, currencies, phew…from the internet.

My daughter learns to sing with ear plugs and YouTube songs with lyrics. Her knowledge of films and music is all from the internet. She watches videos of animals giving birth and pictures of different breeds of dogs, as she harbors a quiet dream of running an animal shelter one day. She plays complex video games with other kids all over the world and writes messages online, proving to many that she can read and write without being taught to do so by a teacher. She is in tune with the latest fashion trends and keeps a sketch book of her fashion drawings.

The next question invariably is about obscenity and vulgarity on electronic media. I must admit, I am surprised that my children have never naturally felt any need to watch anything that is “vulgar or obscene”. This question comes in the minds of adults who grew up in repressed environments as children and had to sneak out for their dose of forbidden things! The unpleasant outcomes of those adventures still have painful memories in the minds of the adults and hence they fear TV, Internet, and other media and operate from those old fears of painful memories. But they mostly forget the reasons that drove them to sneak out and seek adventures with unpleasant outcomes, in the first place. The adults forget that the reasons for such adventures were to start with prohibition, restriction and moralization.

The root of that old fear is what parents want to propagate with their children, which bring in the same results, of children seeking misadventures in the wrong places. Sometimes when adult and vulgar images or content pop up on the net or TV, my children are more curious about knowing what it all means and why do they show such stuff on net or TV. And that leads to healthy conversations between my children and me. We talk about sex, sexuality, pornography, prostitution, violence, etc like any other subject of knowledge.

Of course the real work is being done by me, the parent, in cleansing my fears of sexuality and violence. As a parent when my children ask questions that cause discomfort in me, it acts as cues for me to understand the root of that discomfort in my mind and body. Invariably it is because of some unpleasant experience of mine stemming from my childhood or past, which needs my attention and healing. This process also prevents me from projecting my fears and ignorance on my children. This detached process helps me to be a more alert, attentive and compassionate parent to my children and their real and immediate needs.

When the skeptics hear of this from me, they say, “Oh well, who has time with school and work and the daily routine of life, to indulge in such processes?” I smile and say, “Exactly the reason why we unschool so that we have more time and space for such slow and internal learning and integration of knowledge and self discovery”. By now we all know what the next inevitable question is going to be. “Well all this fine, but what about getting a job or finding a livelihood or earning money?” Hmmm…I say to myself silently, “with 18 years of leisurely time spend in self discovery, finding a livelihood would be easier than it has been for me who spent 25 years of my life in formal education and still could not figure out a work that spoke of my heart and represented my unique gifts.”

But this is what I say. I tell them that my daughter wants to be fashion designer, singer, kennel owner, home-maker and stay-at-home mother. My son wants to be inventor,archaeologist, architect, linguist, professor, artist and world and space traveler.

“And how will they become all that if they do not go to school or college and take exams?” is the logical next question. I explain to them in words that when there is a seed of desire in the heart, and that seed is watered and nourished with creative and lively inputs from the environment in that moment, in which the children are growing up in, the plant will sprout and the tree will grow and the Universe will support and bring the required nutriments and help the tree to blossom and bear fruits. The children will dream freely and the power of their dreams will manifest the desired results for them.

I attended a terrace garden community gathering recently where there were many urban farmers. One urban farmer showed us how to make soil out of dried and decomposed leafs and also showed us mulching. After we prepared the bed for the soil, we filled it with layers of dried coconut leaves and laid it with decomposed leaves and we then stepped on that with bare feet. It felt so soft. Once the bed was filled, the lady farmer got a whole lot soaked seeds from the kitchen. She had soaked them for three hours or so. They were a combination of pulses, beans, oil seeds and spices. She also explained how the moment the seed came in contact with water the process of germination had already rolled in but invisibly and that is why they soaked it only for a few hours. She explained why, sowing sprouted seeds was harmful as sunlight would dry up the sprouts too early and they would not grow so that we could cut them and add them back to the soil.

She told us how in Ayurveda (the ancient Indian wisdom of medicinal herbs, health and healthy food) the food that we grow and eat is based on nine Rasas (in Sanskrit rasas also means emotions). Rasas also means attributes or traits. And she told us each of the seeds that we sow will germinate and take root over a period of three 21-day cycles. During which we need to cut parts of that green growth and add it back to the brown soil to green the soil. The reason for doing this is that the roots of each green plant will attract different microbes to the root which will enrich the soil with their unique nutriments. This will create a biodiversity in the soil. And over a period of time the right soil for growing food will be ready. The best part of this process is that every season will have its own beans, own pulses and own oil seeds. The best soil is a right mix of brown and green!

Then we covered the planted seeds with more dried and decomposed leaves. The purpose of this was to not expose the soil to too much heat or cold. When the weather is hot the leaf cover will keep the soil cool and when the weather is cold the leaf cover will keep the soil warm! Are we consciously doing this to our children or not? I feel school and modern education has very little scope for this kind of organic protection for real and durable growth to happen.

Why am I narrating this whole example? Well to illustrate that, that given the premise that human beings are part of this planet just as plants are and since scientifically too it has been proven that all living beings are essentially made up of the same molecules and atom, what holds good for the plants holds good and true for human beings too. For the soil of the soul and mind to enrich, all Rasas, that is all emotions and attributes are necessary for fruition. Each child will attract according to his or her inherent nature the right ingredients (microbes in case of plants) to come to fruition. And what I explained about making soil ready for growing food is a long and patient process. This process takes root mostly under the earth with no visibility above surface. It all happens mysteriously in darkness. So is the case with children. I am pretty much convinced that school and the modern education system have no space for long, patient and invisible processes. Unschooling is the path for this long enriching process.

This paper was to be presented at the Homeschoolers Conference but could not present the talk due to some last minute technical hitch. However, the presentation was accepted in writing.

I am Ruchir and I never went to school

30 Jul

Sejal: Hello, Ruchir! Can you briefly introduce yourself?

Ruchir: My name is Ruchir and I live in a small village half way to Gandhinagar from Ahmedabad. I am 24. I have never been to school. I learn from things and people around me in that order! I love to travel and talk to people.

My parents decided that if I go to school, they won’t stop me and if I don’t, they won’t push me. I decided the latter and they were cool with it. I learnt a little bit of animation and film-making and I love to take photos of things, and people.

I make money using those skills I learnt from some of my friends, which is enough for me right now. I don’t know about the future but I think I will figure something out. I have learnt not to worry, something I am thankful to my parents for. They left their awesomely-paying jobs in the early 80’s and started doing what they loved. They turned out just fine. So I am not worried about this.

Sejal: Can you tell us about your parents and their views on education?

Ruchir:  My dad did Bachelor in Engineering in Production (B.E) and Masters in Mechanical Engineering from MSU and was a lecturer there after he completed his studies. My mum did her Bachelor of Arts and LLB and was doing CA.  During that time, Jayprakash Narayan’s (JP) Nav Nirman Andolan was in its peak. It was basically an anti-corruption movement, far bigger than today’s Lokpal anti-corruption movement. Both my parents got involved in the movement and met at a meeting.

My mom was doing a job in Bank of India at that time. JP suggested that all leave government jobs and all go live in the villages. He called everyone to work for the society. So both my parents left their respective jobs, got married and started living in a small village called Lotiya near Rajasthan-Gujarat-Pakistan border. It was in Radhanpur-Santalpur area. JP also suggested to that all get rid of their surnames as s step closer to equality. So dad started using my mum’s name as his surname and mum used dad’s name as surname.  So their names became Raju-Deepti and Deepti-Raju. My dad would always say, “Problem with today’s education is that it doesn’t have any relationship to the real world. After finishing my engineer, even if a small spark plug was broken, I couldn’t fix it. But a 15 year old kid could.” He started working in Lotiya’s watershed, then worked a little with Bansali Trust and later started his own NGO. My parents have their own views and principles on education. My dad believes that the first principle of learning is that nothing can be taught. But he also believes that the principle of life is that you cannot live without learning.

Sejal: We hear you never went to school?

Ruchir: I was born in 1988. And they were very clear about my education. They had an idea that if I wanted to go to school, they wouldn’t stop me, and if I didn’t want to go, they wouldn’t push me either. So yes I did not go to school. I think that school is a very recent invention of human civilization. And everyone knows the reason for its invention. One theory is that after industrial revolution since both parents needed to work, there was a need for a system to keep kids busy and make more fuel by teaching them from the beginning about how great this system is. This might be a little harsh though, but I put it in my words. But again, it’s just a theory. Anyway, so I think school is a very new thing. School is unnatural with four walls and children sitting quietly in within four walls for at least 8 hours a day. It’s not how humans beings evolved and it’s not what human beings are supposed to do naturally. I didn’t go to school and never wanted to.

Sejal: That sounds like my children! And I understand that at that age too you were having this same understanding.

Ruchir:  I may not have that understanding. but I had that dislike for school, like most of the children my age back then. You believe something and you develop understanding. But I should confess, ‘I didn’t go to school at all’ is just partially true because I did go to school for one day, or rather half a day, to tell you the truth. It was an experiment and it failed. So after we moved to Koba, I made new friends. We had to move because my dad wasn’t working with Bhansalis anymore and we needed a place not too far from the city and not too close to the city so we chose Koba. Dad was doing some publication work so he had to visit Ahmedabad a lot. After we moved to Koba, near Gandhinagar, almost all my new friends used to go to school and they asked my “What do you do all day at home? Come to school, it’s fun!”

I asked mum when could I join school and she said, “Go from Monday”. So we got the books and I joined on Monday. It was sent to 4th or 5th grade. So I went to school, and it was all fun until teacher came. As teacher entered, everyone stood up like robots and started reciting the prayer and then the pledge, “Bharat maro desh che badha Bhartiyo mara bhai behen che, hu Bharat na.” I soon realized I was a in the wrong place!

Then, the teacher asked for the homework and all my friends behaved like I had never seen them behave. They said “Yes Ma’am, Sorry Ma’am, Will do it Ma’am, No Ma’am”. That was weird to hear. But when the recess started, the same friends were saying bad and nasty things about that same teacher!

I realized somehow school teaches us to behave differently in different situations. It makes us lie and makes us pretend to be something we are not. That is a time when I consciously started believing that school does something wrong,

Sejal: Did your friends play an important part in your learning?

Ruchir:  Yes after my parents, I have learned most from my friends. My parents were travelling a lot, for trainings, workshops, camps, talks. I have lived a little bit in almost all states of India and made many friends. So yes, for me friends are the biggest assets, I should say.

Sejal:  How were your days? Did you follow a curriculum or like unschooling you learnt whatever you are interested in?

Ruchir:  I didn’t follow a curriculum, but I wanted to read what my friends were reading. So I read some textbooks, but didn’t read most of them. I was a competitive person from the start, and I always had an urge to do things better. So I was competing with my school going friends, and it included sports as well as academics. So I read a few textbooks just for the sake of arguing with them but at home, no, I did not follow any curriculum.

At one point though, my uncle convinced me to take board exams. He argued that “You say you like to have different experiences. Do you know what my son (my cousin, who was in 10th then) has to go through? Do you have any idea how the tension and stress of exam feels like?” And till that time I had not experienced an ‘exam’ and I had no answer to counter argue with him, so I took it as a challenge, which I didn’t have to, and filed for National Indian Open School (NIOS) 10th standard exams and cleared it and then took 12th as well. But I didn’t go to college or university.

Sejal: I hear that you translate other language books? How did that happen?

Ruchir:  I was translating from Hindi to Gujarati. Although I have conversational understanding of Bengali, Punjabi, Marathi and Mewari/Marwari and I know a little Spanish. I translated some books when I was just 11 years old in 1999.

Sejal: What I find with children is that reading comes easier than writing. What do you feel and how was it for you?

Ruchir:  I think I didn’t learn alphabets. That is what my mom says I started recognising words. I knew what word ‘sugar’ looked like, in Gujarati.  And I used to grab the sugar container from the kitchen and eat sugar. I could identify that container with ‘sugar’ written on it from all the other identical ones, is what my mother says. I think I was good at drawing and sketching from the start, so when you don’t know the meanings, words are just a little drawing.  Also I remember imitating the words as little sketches.

Sejal: Do like writing?

Ruchir: Yes, I used to publish a magazine. But now mainly I blog and write a little professionally.

Sejal: I hear you like photography and you also play the guitar, is that true?

Ruchir:  Yes, I developed these skills later. I was blessed with a musical family. My mom plays the sitar and my dad liked playing the tabla a little. He is not as good as my mom, but he appreciates music a lot. I learned tabla and later guitar. But I’m not very good at it! Photography started as a hobby and then I started working professionally.

Sejal: So what do you do professionally?

Ruchir: I dabble with a few things photography, writing, film making, graphic designs. My friends and I have started a graphic design studio. Sometimes I also work for my father.

Sejal: It seems you had different passions at different time and where you clear about them?

Ruchir: I wouldn’t say I was clear about anything from the start. But if I look back now, I think I always liked to draw. It’s a whole different thing if I am good at it or not. But photography, graphic design or drawing, it’s a visual medium, which I feel appeals to me the most. I have explored and am still passionate about various things. I am still finding new passion in life. Life is a lesson; you learn it when you are through, as they say.

Sejal: What do you think is the fear that homeschooling parents have?

Ruchir: I feel the biggest fear new homeschooling parent’s face is not “What my kid will do in his/her life?” but “What will he do all day?”. I feel if you don’t have time to spend with your child, maybe homeschooling is not for you. The first decision they need to make is of lifestyle. One needs to ask oneself, “What kind of lifestyle I need to lead. If I want to do a regular job like, then I am better off going to school. But if I am conscious to do something different with my life, then I might need to think why do I need to spend 30 years in school system, when I am not sure if I am going to live next 30 years after that.

Sejal: I personally think different people opt for homeschooling with different expectations. Do you feel some just feel that this way they will make their child smarter and more intelligent?

Ruchir:  It is just sad if that is how some people feel. They don’t know how many man hours are spent on that child’s learning by their parents. My parents asked “What do u want to do today?” and I am sure I had different answers every day!

Sejal: In your journey so far have you ever felt that you would have had a skill if only you went to school?

Ruchir: Well, yes. if I had gone to school, I would be a little less socially awkward. But I think everyone feels that they are socially awkward. I was feeling that more when I was teenager, but not now so much.  I feel one must never believe in something so hard that one gets trapped by it and its all an experiment homeschooling doesn’t have a curriculum. So it has no exact formula. So we might fail. I still might fail. So its ok to be open and give freedom to kids. My parents did that so profoundly. They always gave me choices and kept me far from conditioning. So let them have the freedom if they wish to go back to school then let them go. I am not a homeschooling extremist.

Sejal: How do you define freedom? Freedom given by parent’s to children. Freedom of what to eat, what to learn, from where to learn, resources etc. But at some point didn’t you find it still limiting.

Ruchir:  Even sky is a limit. Freedom is a bit relative term and I think my parents tried to give as much freedom as they could or imagine. But if they didn’t have perspective of freedom to one more step, they couldn’t give it to me. But I don’t remember not been able to do anything I wanted to.

Sejal: Sometimes I feel I’m not able to fulfil my child’s wish or am not able help him much. It could be because my skills are limited or I do feel enough energy. Did you feel the same way about your parents?

Ruchir: Well, there were times. My parents lived a lot simpler life.  Back then we used to live in a 12 feet by 12 feet room. For many years there were a few basic physical limitations. And also it was a chosen poverty. They had chosen to live that way. Coming from such background, I did find myself wondering that I did not have choice and because of them I had to live that way. So yes there may have been a few small tantrums that turned into revolts in my early years. But it was just for first 5 years of my life. Then we moved here and then there was a lot more physical freedom.

But my parents believe that they are ordinary parents and their son is an ordinary son. They didn’t want to make me extraordinary and I don’t want to be either.

Sejal: Do you feel only the economically well off people can homeschool?

Ruchir:  No. I belong to a very middle class family. Infact in my childhood my family had very limited means! So taking care of your children has nothing to do with what social and economic class you belong to. And to be able to spend time with your children, you need to be ‘not worried’ about making a lot of money.

Sejal: Did you at times feel the need TV/video games/books/camera etc.?

Ruchir:  We didn’t have TV, video games. My uncle had all this stuff, so I used to use them when I visited them at times on my cousin’s vacations. But I don’t think I missed them when I got back home. But there was always excitement to go back and play with them. But media and advertisements was not forced down children’s throats back then. I never missed books though my dad has an enormous collection of great books.

Sejal: What do parents do when they find limitations in supporting their children’s passions as the parent lacks the skill or energy may be, like my son needs helps in making something in which I’m not able to help?

Ruchir:  Yes, children don’t need to be shadows of their parents. There are a few things your parents can’t teach you. Then you need to find a mentor. My dad didn’t know photography so I found a mentor. He didn’t know much about guitar, so I found a mentor. Like that and if they want to learn something so much, they will find a way.

Sejal: How do you feel about increasing number of homeschooling families? Do you see somehow it will help to bring tremendous change in people’s view about learning and education? Or do you feel blindly running behind progress is unavoidable?

Ruchir:  I don’t think I am in a position to comment on other homeschooling families I did it because I felt like it. But I am worried a little about today’s definition of homeschooling. When we say homeschooling, people imagine that ‘his mom would have a black board in their drawing room and he would be sitting and her mom would be teaching him on the board’. It’s not like that and it’s misconception. New homeschoolers are making children follow school syllabus and I think that is even worse than school. In school, teacher doesn’t pay total attention to every single child, it’s divided, so children have more freedom. But if you follow school syllabus at home, your child has your complete, undivided attention and that can be a little harmful in some cases. We don’t let our children be.

I think we need to help children learn. They need to believe that you can learn anything you want. As they say, providing a learning environment. You water them, manure them, give them shed, and they grow. It sounds very much clichéd, I know and I can’t imagine how you feel as a parent. But kids today are crippled as they believe that until someone teaches them, they cannot  learn.

Sejal: How good are your parents handling your strong/negative reaction if any?

Ruchir: I know my parents would be able to answer this better. But they have always been reasonable with me. If I physically hurt someone, I was made sure I understood it hurts if one does that to someone.. They never scolded me, in my memory. But they were very good with explaining the repercussions of my actions.

Sejal: Any example if you remember?

Ruchir: I once hit my mom because I was angry for some reason. And she was shocked by my behaviour. I was four or five years old and mom was a bit teary not because I hurt her, but because I was violent for the first time. So my dad asked me if it’s okay if he beat me to make me feel how much it hurts if you hit someone. He asked me if it’s okay to beat me. I said it’s not okay to beat anyone and that was the end of it. And I may have realized that it’s not ok to hurt anyone.

Sejal: Did you ever miss out on socialization?

Ruchir: My parents used travel a lot for trainings and workshops all over India when I was a kid. They were also involved with an NGO that worked in 7-8 states, so they had to travel for that as well. And since I didn’t have schools to go to, I used to go along with them. I had to deal with all kids of situations in all those journeys. I believe that as much you expand your physical horizons, your mental/emotional/(and now that you ask, social) horizons also expand. Unlike schools, you learn to deal with MORE kinds of people this way. That’s why I say to all of the new homeschoolers to travel as much they can while they can. You learn social skill like no schoolgoer does. And when you can, travel alone!

Sejal: What are you engaged with currently in your life?

Ruchir: I am doing quite a few things right now professionally. I am working as a graphic designer for a wildlife magazine called Care4Nature and my dad’s NGO (Jeevantirth). I am freelancing as a photographer.

And I am a nature lover my passion. So right now I am in the process of starting a small unit of Birdhouses and Birdfeeder production. Lot of challenges and I am not sure how it will work out, if at all.

Sejal: All the best Ruchir and thanks for sharing your views with us.

Life learning

19 Jul

Even before we had a child, back in summer of 2008 I met a child who was like most of her peers, but yet different. Confident, expressive, loud and free are the adjectives that come to my mind. It was fascinating for me to watch her and somehow she made me feel very happy.

When we gathered at a friend’s home, I spotted her with her mother in a corner. I was just drawn to the pair of them. I don’t remember how, but sometime during our conversation, her mother mentioned that the child did not attend school.

My mind was suddenly abuzz. There were a thousand questions, but also feelings of respect, awe at the courage to be ‘different’. I asked her amma, so how do you do it? You have lessons which you take at home? So is the school replicated at home? For which I received a rather simplistic answer- ” I just answer any questions that she has”. We stopped talking about it then, because her amma went to talk to someone else in the room. It took me a while to digest the answer.

That was my first introduction to home schooling. I remember having heard about it vaguely but had never come across anyone actually doing it. I was back again with more questions for which I got patient answers. Through this I made two dear friends and for me there was no looking back.

After Disha, I found more answers by reading and later interacting with other home schoolers. Askamma’s newsletter, John Holt’s books on How Children Learn and How Children Fail, Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn are most of what I read. The journey has only convinced us that we can trust our instincts and children’s innate ability to learn on their own terms. As parents we can only facilitate, encourage and stand back.

The ever growing home schooling community throughout India, more and more alternative education movements is proof enough that change is inevitable.

We are unlearning and growing along with our child. Rediscovering what we are passionate about. Many parents have said that home schooling is not about the children, its about us as adults, reflecting on our lives and what we can do to make this planet a better place for the future generations. The children do not need to be taught, they’ll learn anyway. One step at a time.

Watching Disha grow is cementing our belief in this choice. We don’t have all the answers, let alone know the all questions. And yet, I, feel peaceful and grateful.

The post was originally written for authors blog Whichdisha – Directions our lives take.