Right now, education, in India, is in the throes of change. The Right to Education Act was established recently. With it, comes a huge opportunity to abridge the stark isolation of some sections of our society. Also, the RTE will hopefully set the stage for some meaningful reforms, by overcoming ‘implementation devils’.
The government-regulated change aside, there’s a sprinkling of people in our country who are unwilling to wait till eternity for a turn-around of the mainstream education system and its ethos.
Instead, they have chosen the path to homeschool their children. My family is one of them.
It’s worth adding that our community of homeschoolers is growing steadily. And from our shared stories, hundreds of families have begun to see a real possibility of bringing up their children in freedom, without making them go through the grind of standardized learning in schools.
We have different reasons and approaches to homeschool. But the core belief lies in giving freedom to the child to live, learn and grow – at his/her own pace; in ways that are favorable to the temperament of the child. And, seeing value as a parent in what the child seeks to learn.
It’s not a complex theory really.
It’s based on an inherent truth about humans. Which is – we humans are thinking and learning creatures. We will create our own learning paths if we’re allowed to pursue what fascinate us; if we’re allowed to trust our instincts; and to indulge in tasks that are meaningful to us.
When a child gets respect and trust for who he/she IS rather than trained and moulded into how the parents or the society want him/her to be, the child’s true self will shine through. He will unfold into the person he’s meant to be. That’s all. And, it works.
Today, I bring to you an enriching exchange that I had on the subject of learning, homeschooling and unschooling – with Dola Dasgupta.
Dola is an unschooling mother of two children. One daughter (Gourika -10 yrs) and one son (Ishaan – 6 yrs). She facilitates the learning of her children and supports other parents who homeschool or are looking at such possibilities for their children. She is a writer and has a few blogs on self awareness and living in awareness with children – children my partners, thou art thy creator and our creative altar. Dola lives in Pune.
Here’s the Interview:
Q1. Rashmie: Dola, how did you decide to Unschool? Anyone in particular who inspired you or helped you make this choice?
Dola: I did not know that there was homeschooling and unschooling. When I met Alice and Rajesh Lele in Hyderabad, I simply saw an option to educated children at home without school. So I came back to Delhi and withdrew my daughter from school. I started maintaining a routine and follow more of school at home.
But that I found was very constricting to both her and me. For the first time I saw deeply the irrelevance of the ways in which things were being taught to children. For example the whole lessons on part of body..I found ridiculous. Then phrases like Thank you, Goodnight, Good morning etc..was artificial to me..as she already knew them.
Then learning about different trees through pictures in the text books that I felt in no way resembled a real tree..Learning about flowers without ever being in the garden!
Many many such things started to bother both of us. She, I found, was finding it all very dull and I was grappling for creative ways to make learning more real.
That is when I happened to meet Urmila Samson, from Pune. She has been unschooling her three children. Her oldest is now 19 years old and pursuing Waldorf Education Training in England. She put me on to the term unschooling.
I started my reading and research on this way of learning without any specific curriculum through Sandra Dodd’s site and many others. Sandra is again an experienced unschooler from USA.
to first deschool. Which according to me is a process of ‘recovering’ from school mind sets and conditioning…
So we just started experimenting with no studies or teaching and just free time..doing whatever one pleased. The whole time I kept reading on Sandra’s site and also on the e-groups and also started to interact closely with Urmila and Hema Bhardwaj, unschooling mother living in Pune. So in that sense not one person but many showed me the way actually to a choice that I had already made. That is to learn from life itself.
During that time I was also working on my innerwork through meditative and other self-reflective practices and that also made me see how learning is only about self awareness and nothing else. And it is about self mastery and not mastery of any subject.
So it kind of all felt right and step by step I trusted this process and it started to become our learning ways…I never stopped myself from asking difficult questions or revealing my weaknesses to more experienced unschoolers. Always learning and being inspired from them. I was always open about the blunders I made and the learning that came of it. I never felt ashamed of being wrong.
Q2. Rashmie: The examples that you cited – learning about body parts, or learning about trees from text books – without ever being in a garden, yes, those are artificial way to learn.
But then, those ways are from the time we went to school. Schools are evolving and so are their ways of how children should learn. More and more schools are adopting hands-on ways of learning. Whether in India or outside, there’s a growing emphasis on field trips and learning by ‘doing’. Many schools have gardening clubs; even cookery, pottery, carpentry – for students who may be interested. And then there are alternative schools that are nothing about learning the traditional way. Could you have chosen any such school for your children? Or, was it more than just ‘this is not the right way to learn’ for you as a mother?
Dola: You are right…schools are trying…but I have taught in a popular school for five years..and my daughter went to school just fours years back. And most of my friends in Delhi are school-going families…so I do have some idea about what is happening.
And yes there are clubs and all that…but I have often found teachers grappling with term ends and other admin work…I have been a teacher in two big schools of Delhi.
Alternative schools, as far as I know are not many in Delhi….and even in alternative schools the pressure to finish term does exist..but I am not an authority on this…I did visit an alternative school in Bangalore..and the space was impressive…but I got afraid of notices and orders and sermons pasted all over the school!
School does not seem the right environment to learn, even though I myself did go to school.
According to me and what I experience with my children is that learning happens naturally depending on the receptors of each individual child….forcing anything before time or withholding or postponing till some specified age..as is done in schools I feel is hampering the natural learning process of each child….
The finish line for schools is 17 years of a child’s age and starting line is 3 years in Delhi….it is already time bound from the start….and learning that is time bound is not natural….it is enforced.
Having said so…I also want to add that schools are probably the right choice for many million households and that is alright too..as it does work for them I guess…and perhaps a solution for millions who cannot even imagine other alternatives…and that is the way it is….to get a job that pays the bills is the goal..better the job better the income and that is what majority aspire for…and nothing wrong in that way of living….I have been part of that way of thinking also…
It is about life choices….
Q3. Rashmie: Yes, like you said – school probably is the right choice for many million households. But, the fact also is that those millions of households don’t know about other choices or ways for their children to learn. They know of schools to be the ONLY and BEST place for a ‘well-rounded education’; for “personality development”, socialization etc. The general consensus is that schools play the most important role in socialization. Nothing else can substitute. I know that homeschoolers and unschoolers have other views. What’s your view and experience on this?
Dola: It is important for me to clarify here that, when I walk out of a system…it is because it does not work for me…not because I wish to change the system. The only way to change anything is to create something new..and alternative to that which is already in existence. And share our stories and journeys and let that inspire those who wish to seek other alternatives.
So I don’t think I ever took this step to take responsibility for the whole of human kind who send their kids to school..It was for me and my children. Of course then I became part of a tribe and others started to walk out and join the tribe…That is how new lands and frontiers are always found and formed. The old cannot be destroyed. The new must simply take birth. That is all.
Well-rounded education: For me is the alignment of mind, body, spirit. In which the mind is empty of all existing knowledge which comes from pre-conditioned knowledge, the body is healthy by living in its natural rhythms – which means sleep when tired and wake up when slept enough..eat when hungry..not eat when not hungry…play when full of energy and interest, work till the passion lasts, and rest when rest is needed…and the spirit is free to channelize Universal intelligence and creativity through that human being who is rested enough…to create that which is original and never created before.
One can only facilitate this process by providing some tools….so conversations, silence, books, internet, cinema, TV, travel, playtools etc are only means and not an end…
This process takes time and patience and a lot of space. Do schools have that kind of time, space and patience?
Personality development: The biggest myth of all. Developing personalities is the down fall of humanity. It is putting human being into straight jackets types and stereo types…All rounder, over achiever, under achiever, average, below average, shy, aggressive, extrovert, introvert, open, closed, best performer of the year…can be improved performer of the year…and these labels go on till the working life of a human being too…You can find these names being called out in the corporate annual parties of large and small multinationals and corporate houses…Even in families..and social circles…these are common personality labels. There is no end to this.
In all this noise of personality development..the REAL HUMAN BEING IS LOST in oblivion…buried under performance anxiety.
Socialization: Schools provide socialisation of the most artificial kind. It is not real. Does any human being socialise in the real world with only 25 years olds, 35 year olds or 50 years olds….Do work places have only people of 45 year olds in one department? Do hospitals have only 50-something doctors or nurses? Do you have relatives who are of the same age interacting with each other? Are all your neighbors your age?
Homeschooled children choose who they wish to socialize with depending on interest and passion. The socialisation is more heart related than forced. If there is no need to socialize then they don’t. And who said socialization is only valid if it is with people outside the family and close friends?
Most homeschooled children learn to be at ease and comfort with siblings and other family members and most importantly with their own selves….
My children make friends with older children, younger children, men and women, based on common passion, interest and love.
Q4. Rashmie: Great insights, Dola. Socialization, I think, is a much deeper and wider concept than putting a child in a space filled with 30 kids of the same age and having a teacher supervise (or rather restrict) their interactions.
Probably, when people are talking about socialization at school, they are thinking about kids playing with each other; having friends that they can meet everyday; and ‘may be’ form long-term friendships with – due to the very fact that they are together for a long period of time, for years may be.
I won’t generalize, but most kids crave to play. They can’t have enough of it. And homeschooling kids do have all the time in the world to play as much as they want. Sadly, what they might lack is kids available to play with. Because other kids are at school. When back from school, they have homework, extra classes (music/art etc), test preparation. And, in India, we don’t have very many homeschooling families in the vicinity for our kids to play with. How do you ensure your kids get enough opportunities to play – as much as they might like to? Specially for homeschooling families with single kid (like ours), can you share any ideas?
Dola: I realised and observed certain things about making friends while unschooling.
- Some friends are not forever. In real life it is healthier to move through life and make new friends through out life. I went to school and in reality all my close and dear friends who understand me well are not my school or college friends…As one evolves and grows one attracts similar friends in life. The human craving for permanency in friendship often is the root of peer pressure, imitation, following others against one’s true nature or will, living beyond one’s own means due to peer pressure..are all rooted in this craving.
- My children have always had friends to play with in the evenings and all this playmates go to school. I have family friends with kids who they meet often..I make that effort stay connected
- I have never let school or no school come in the way of my children and their play mates…My daughter has the freedom to float through many friendships..I see her experimenting with different groups or girls at different phases. And that is great as I see that she is actually giving a lot of importance to compatibility than just having a mate for heck of it..I think she is taking mature and thinking choices..and I am happy for that.
- My son interacts with kids who can have discussion with him or at least listen to his passion and interests…and for that if he has fewer friends..he is fine I see..he is clear that he rather be on his own than just make friends for time pass..Most of his playmates are older than him..he is happy at home with his sister..they play all the time all sorts of creative play…and I am his constant companion in his various pursuits of knowledge…he also loves spending time talking to my mother. He loves being with his dad..and our househelp. He and my househelp (a young girl of 20) solves puzzles, make things out of cardboard or play games on the iPad…
- When I stopped looking at socialization from mindsets…I became free and so did my kids…
- And as they get older I am seeing some other homschooled kids finding various things to do outside home through classes of all sorts…so I am sure so will my kids…one has to trust that is all.
- In the US and Australia kids grow up alone on farms and ranches with no other children…and yet travel the world to make innumerable friends…
I trust that only a human being who is aware of his own company can be a committed friend himself or herself and hence will attract more such committed friends..Rest are just having a good time as long as it lasts..that is all…
Q5. Rashmie: You don’t follow a curriculum; may not use text books; probably no structured method. People would want to know – how do you make sure your children are learning all that they should – to get into college or to take competitive exams, if they want to?
Dola: My children do not follow a standard curriculum. However they learn what they feel inspired to through:
Various resources that I provide and keep a look-out on. Books, Magazines, DVDs, Films, TV, Internet, Toys, Puzzles, Conversations, Travelling with me, their father, other human beings from all around and much much more.
I do not make sure that my children learn all that they SHOULD learn….but I facilitate what they are naturally drawn towards. In unschooling there are no shoulds and should nots…
Learning is happening all the time as children absorb from their surroundings and the world they live in. I am their constant learning companion and participate in their enthusiasm towards life and knowledge.
College and exams are not our concerns and yet if they some day wish to pursue some formal education then I am certain they will find their ways. There are many other ways to make a livelihood. One does not need a formal college education for that. And yet if that is a necessary, we shall cross the bridge when it is time..
When one embarks on the journey of unschooling, one needs to make oneself step out of the mainstream ways of thinking. I often find that with unschooled children since the learning is internally driven…to learn anything new for them takes lesser effort than it would for someone who is externally driven to learn the same.
I find with my children that since their mind spaces are not full of information that they perhaps do not really need..what they put in there is out of free will and choice.
We really live in the now and here…and often watch with amusement how the dots keep getting connected.
Q6. Rashmie: In India we need a 10th degree – at least – for college or any higher exam and a 10th (at least) plus a graduate certificate for *any* job. If unschooling kids wanted to get into college or take up a job, how would they get those certificates without taking exams. And writing 10th exam means studying/preparing – the traditional way for the exams – learning all that Math, Algebra etc.
What are your thoughts on this?
Dola: In unschooling one is not looking at the world through conventions or mainstream lenses….Unschooled children find their way through life. If any unschooled child wants to join mainstream, then the child is more than often internally driven and finds his or her own way with a lot of help from parents and the right people. And unschooled kids learn faster when they set their mind to anything..as the urge is coming form inside and is not externally imposed. However, most unschooled children do not gravitate towards conventional mainstream careers. Since their beings are differently rooted in more natural ways of being. They create new paths and new livelihood options ….as one conventionally knows of. And yet they might do all that is ‘conventional’.
Q7. Rashmie: What have you found to be the most rewarding about unschooling your children?
Dola: There is no one thing that I found to be the most rewarding about unschooling. It is a broader spectrum. The process of togetherness that my children and I have been working on and continue to do is rewarding. The honesty and authenticity in relating with feelings and emotions is enriching. The conflicts and the resolution of them is learning. The ability to learn to cohabit with varied interests and temperaments is refreshing.
Q8. Rashmie: What has been the toughest part about homeschooling your children? How did/do you tackle those challenges?
Dola: If you ask me what has bee the toughest part. There is no one answer again. Challenges keep emerging. As I grow and my children grow and evolve we encounter new challenges. But I don not view challenges as negatives. They mean to me that I am trying something new and creative.
Q9. Rashmie: Some think that homeschooling your kids amounts to letting go of your own career, interests and even any quiet time. What is your story?
Dola: Letting go of my CAREER is a totally different story and not about unschooling according to me and not relevant here. Regarding interests and quiet time, I have discovered new interests that are dear to me, nurtured old interests, found that my children’s interests also interest me and quiet time is plenty, more than I ever had before I started to unschool.
Q10. Rashmie: Besides the way you have chosen to homeschool, which is unschooling, are there any other approaches or philosophies to homeschool? Are there homeschoolers who follow a more structured approach, follow a curriculum etc?
Dola: Homeschooling is another name for learning without school. So the parents take on the complete responsibility of the learning of their children. That does not mean parents do not take the aid and help of outsiders. It is a whole new way of being 100% involvement in the intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual well being of the children. Homeschooled children also attend classes for subjects or other activities. Many engage private tutors or mentors also. But it is all done in a co-creative way and not as SHOULDS.
Many homeschooled children focus on a particular activity besides academics. The many homeschoolers I have known pursue a passion be it dance, music, creative arts, performing arts, sports, photography or film making and many such passions as the main focus and take academic exams more as something to go by. There is not much stress on grades and marks.
There are many homeschoolers who follow a standard curriculum, but I have seen that, that is more for the purpose of clearing examinations and not so much for life. For life these kids are often focused on some interest or passion.
That does not mean that homeschooled children do not take to mainstream subjects or professions. But if they do then it is often with a deep dive and focus and NOT just to get a job or earn money.
Q11. Rashmie: What advice/suggestion would you give to those who really want to consider Homeschooling as an option for their children but are not able to take the leap of faith?
Dola: Well I would not advise at all but only suggest and show the way if one is keen. I would suggest they read about homeschooling movements in America, Europe and Australia. They may read books by John Holt, in many ways the man who started to first advocate for homeschooling. Most of it is available online now. And books by John Holt are easily available. There are translations to Indian languages also available.
I would suggest they read Sri Aurobindo’s works, and the works of Sri Ma (Mother), the works of Swami Vivekanand, read Rabindranath Tagore’s vision of education and then read about families who are homeschooling in India. A lot of material is available online. Most homeschoolers are only too happy to share their journey with other potential homeschoolers. So meeting homeschooling families is one of the best ways.
But having said this I would say that let the gut feeling come from within. Only when in the hearts of the parents, the burning questions arise will the parents think of other alternatives to educate their children and those questions are:
“Are schools doing the best to allow the growth and evolution of a loving, peaceful and compassionate human being OR are the schools creating more rats to run the rat race and making fiercely competitive human beings who would do anything to stay ahead of fellow human beings, as staying ahead is the only trait that is applauded and recognized?”
“Are the schools able to instill something more profound and steady within the child that is not just external security based on certificates, jobs, skills to attain wealth?”
“Are the schools able to enable the child to connect with THAT essential self which is grounded in self love, so that the vagaries of the outside world that come in the form of job cuts, lack of employment, natural and man made disasters, suffering of life and pain that arise from separation, sickness, death and disability, are unable to touch him or her?”
For me unschooling is all about instilling a sense of confidence and courage that does not depend on anything external that can be taken away at any point of time. How may one do this or allow this to happen is the question that often pushes parents to homeschool or usnchool is what I have experienced and seen.
Rashmie: Thank you, Dola, for sharing your insight, awareness and your personal journey. This conversation has been valuable for me and I hope the readers here will benefit, too.
Friends, we’d be happy to answer any questions that you might have.
Please feel free to ask in the comments section below.