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.