The last straw that kick-started our homeschooling journey

I never wanted our children to attend formal school. But Deepti wanted them to experience alternate schools prior to taking a final decision in favour of homeschooling. And we did!

But alternate school admissions were not easy. After all schooling, in all its forms, is a seller’s market. Our search led us to the gates of two schools. The first one was a semi-alternate new-age experiential school which made prospective parents play corporate team building games as part of the admission process. I am yet to figure out the logic. The other school, which claimed to be a free school, ‘observed’ the child as part of their admission process. We flunked the team games but our daughter managed to get successfully ‘observed’!

The alternate school was good. It was almost like the free school they claimed it to be. There was no curriculum, no school dress… there was even a mattress in the class for kids who decided to take a nap. Within a year or two the school was a talk of the town and many parents wanted to send their child to experience its interesting environment. So it decided to scale up.

But ‘scale’ is a dangerous proposition. To scale up they had to replicate the model which was working for them. So free-learning transformed into a co-ordinated exercise of ‘centralised’ experiential learning which was controlled by curriculum in-charges who dished out ‘interesting’ worksheets.

Within a short timeframe the worksheets started revealing the true course of the proclaimed new journey. I still remember maths worksheet question which detailed out the marks of two students and asked about how much ‘more marks’ did student A score than student B. Technically there was nothing wrong with the question except for the fact that the alternate school in question did not believe in marks or grades hence children too were not exposed to the idea of marks and what ‘more marks’ really meant!

I also vividly remember a discussion I had with a senior teacher who was adamant that we do not use the word ‘kill’. I asked her about what word would one use to explain the actions of a hungry tiger? She got slightly agitated and said that as parents we need to be sensitive towards emotions of the child and closed the discussion. Obviously someone from above was outlining the principles and dishing out diktats that were getting applied by the teachers, probably without their buy-in.

After few more of such strange occurrences I confronted the school management. They were unwilling to discuss the matter but I stood ground and kept asking them about their plan of action. One of the directors finally uttered something which I was not ready to hear. He said, “We never claimed we were a free school!” At that moment we knew that things are not going to change for good. We were left with no option but to accept this change or take matters into our own hands through homeschooling. We were more than willing to take matters into our own hands. The only question was – when and how? The opportunity knocked our doors pretty soon!

Our elder daughter, who was in class three, came back from school one day and told us that she had been asked to collect and share information about a historical monument of her choice. She was excited about her assignment. We suggested that it would be good if she choose a monument she had visited. As she has visited Taj Mahal she asked me to tell something about it. I was learning and experimenting with storytelling during those times so choose to tell them, both the daughters, the story of Taj Mahal in a narrative form, many parts of which were cooked up (but based on the real facts) to liven up the narrative. Their curiosity led to some detailing which I wanted to otherwise avoid – like death of mumtaz during child birth, etc.

Once the narration was over I told her, “Now that you know the story, write whatever you want to share with your teacher and class”.  And this is what she wrote –

Taj Mahal

there was a prince called sa jahan. he when was fifteen yrs ol he play in the jungle he hunts deers and other animals. few days passed he saw a beautiful girl. sajahan saw her he could’nt blink his eyes so sa jahan told her can you be my friend. the girl laughed and walked away. the girl name was mumtaz. at that night sa jahan could’nt sleep. he was seeing in the stars and thinking that he could marry mumtaz. if sa jahan could not marry mumtaz he will fire the whole country. everyday sajahan went to mumtaz house and say that can you be my friend. many weeks passed then mumtaz realsed that sa jahan loves me very much. that day when sa jahan came to mumtaz house she laughed and walked straight far away from her house so sa jahan also followed mumtaz and they walked till day to night. many years passed. maximum five years passed then it was time to tell sa jahan’s father. his father said this beautiful girl can be married with you. so sa jahan was very happy. then soon they got married to mumtaz. soon mumtaz got babies. when her forteenth baby going to born she dead because when her baby was going to born and when her opretion been going to be so when the stomach have been cuted so the blood was leaking very much so she dead. sa jahan was very upset because mumtaz died. so he wanted that every body should be knowing that mumtaz was the beautiful lady in the world so they made taj mahal. when the taj mahal was made they wanted worker to make taj mahal and take 22000. so they kept mumtaz under the sand the sa jahan’s son locked sa jahan in jail and killed his brother and he wanted to be the king.

She took a lot of time to write this and was very happy with the outcome. She had used four pages of a ruled notebook to write this piece. She was very excited to go school and share her story. But to her utter shock, the class teacher took her sheets but did not read it. Neither did the class teacher share her story with the class. What got shared were posters with photographs and printouts of historical fact sheets.

She did not look pleased when she returned home. When we asked her about her experience she said that the teacher probably felt that her story was too long to be shared with the class. She had thought that her class teacher will like the story because the teacher in question liked telling stories.

One of the reasons I disliked schools was that I believed that schools kill creativity, makes children unhappy about learning and teaches them how to compromise at an early age. This experience was a proof of that fact. At that moment we knew that the time has come to say goodbye to formal schooling – even if it is ‘alternate’!

The year was 2010 and the month was August. We needed some time to talk to our children regarding this transition and prepare them for the same. They had got accustomed to the idea of school and were pretty happy going there. We needed to talk to them about the alternative plan. While talking to them we also realised that it would not be a good idea to wait for the end of the current academic year. Kids are usually excited about transitions and class transition is a big thing for them hence we decided to quit school mid-session.

As rite of passage is important, we started planning an event to mark this transition. Our kids shared two desires – air travel and snow. This automatically made December a good time for this transition. A 10 day visit to Gulmarg marked the beginning of this new journey. And what a memorable journey it was!

And what a wonderful new journey began!

But like every other journey, this journey too has had its ups and down. Sometimes we are ecstatic. Sometimes we are sad and frustrated. But most of the time it is just about going with the flow. Looking back, there is nothing to regret about with respect to the choices made.

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I have discussed the ideological reasons behind the choice to homeschool in the article – A bombshell called ‘Homeschooling’. For new homeschoolers, I have also put together – A homeschooling primer.

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