A bombshell called ‘Homeschooling’
We tiptoed into our homeschooling journey. Apart from our immediate family and close friends, not many people knew about it. Within that closed circle, we were bombarded with queries, concerns and commendations.
And then a sad incident took place in Haldwani. A 13 year old school student committed suicide due to failure in exams. A journalist, referred by a friend of mine, called up to seek my views. He also asked me about the merits of homeschooling. It was a general discussion that ended up as a newspaper article. Suddenly everyone knew!
Reactions were varied. Many had never heard about the concept. They were curious to know more. Most reactions and opinions about our decision were pretty strong – on both sides of the fence.
One such discussion happened in our community egroup (I belong to the Shauka community which hails from the Indo-Tibetan border). The questions and comments were intense, intentions were good and the gentleman posing the questions was a well-read respectable elderly gentleman of our community.
I spent a lot of time answering his queries or adding my comments to his observations. I enjoyed the communication and saved relevant portions of it for future reference. In order to be precise with my answers, I took the liberty of using lot of interesting quotations which presented various perspectives, concisely and beautifully.
I am taking the liberty to publish the communication here, in a question answer format. I have edited the text at some places to maintain the flow of words, without changing the essence of the exchange.
“Conceivably, Navin’s experiment seems to be a personal protest against a vast establishment, in which, I’m afraid, two innocent girls are playing the guinea pigs. But, is it fair?”
It is not a protest. It is a choice.
A cousin once told me a story of Osho. Someone asked Osho, “Is that flowing beard of yours an attempt to look different.”
Osho smiled and said, “I make no attempt. It just grows naturally. Actually, it is not my flowing beard but your clean shave which is perhaps unnatural.”
To make guinea pigs means to act unnaturally, for possibly harming someone for personal gains. That is not the case here. We have nothing to prove to anyone. We just want our children to be happy and grow as mature adults who look at life holistically.
“Personal wars may change the world, but it may take long and heavy tolls of sacrifices. His reference to Plato is anachronistic, as Platonic or Aristotelian theories have long been replaced by modern Einsteinian, relativistic theories about the world and human thinking.”
I did not refer to Plato but the journalist did. I would like to share a quote attributed to Einstein, now that you have mentioned him – “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
And if you talk of heavy toll then class 7 children and young adults committing suicide is a heavy toll. The energetic youth loitering purposelessly in a chai shop, waiting for each day to pass is a heavy toll. Mindless professionals existing as a cog is a heavy toll.
“Yet, they (your daughters) needed school environment to grow up all the same, like rest of the kids. I think parents can’t replace school systems. The roles of parents should be to support not to substitute schools.”
School, as an institution is a product of industrial revolution. Humans are learners by nature and if learning and schooling is the same thing then there were more schools per village in India before the Lord Macaulay came in to ‘school’ us.
School is a myth while ‘parent’ is a reality. What is wrong in taking charge of one’s own children instead of handing them over to (quoting Steven Harrison) – “a warehouse to be taught by strangers, a curriculum designed by politicians and armchair academics.”
“But, primarily, the systems aren’t so much to blame for it as people who run them.”
It is a discriminatory worldview that tries to break the reality into subsets, to accept and deny the reality in parts. Such a point of view does not solve any problem. Though slightly off-track, it may still be worthwhile to quote Robert Frost who wrote – “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know, What I was walling in or walling out.‘
“We, the old Shauka folks from Johar, had been denied the variety of present school systems. In our schools we were taught only good morals and to remember irrelevant lessons by heart without knowing the meaning of them, etc.; failing which we were corporeally punished, and even ridiculed and laughed at if we were less privileged. We were never taught how to conduct ourselves in different situations. Our teachers were products of the same school traditions. Therefore, we remained morons forever. For many of us like me, self-fulfilling prophesies did the rest, to the extent that most of us remained immature and mis-educated even up to advanced age.”
Children learn from the community more than a teacher. Shaukas once were a flourishing community. Lower Primary School at Milam provided basic education that was needed for trade. That included working knowledge of English and Tibetan language as well.
Prior to Lower Primary Milam, all Shauka’s were technically home schooled, for year’s altogether. The ‘lack of education’ never affected the trade. In fact, it got better with time.
In my humble opinion, the issue confronting our community today is not due to education but due to an inorganic transition in which we lost our values as a community. In fact modern education acted as a catalyst and made the matters worse. Sadly, those irrelevant lessons that you were taught in school are still taught today, though the packaging has changed in some so-called modern schools.
A look at the National Curriculum Framework by NCERT is enough to demonstrate what the modern education is all about – nowhere close to what the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, envisioned –
“That which does not cleanse our conscience, does not teach us how to keep our minds and senses in control, does not make us fearless and self-reliant, does not help us answer questions of sustenance, does not make us courageous enough to deny slavery and seek freedom, such an education, even if it is a treasure trove of information, enables us to make effective arguments, and provides us with scholastic command over language, cannot be called education. And if it is, then it is an incomplete one.”
“In my book, school system should start educating children to develop correct and logical reaction patterns (not the two-valued Aristotelian logic), and to educate to distinguish symbols from facts or things. They should be trained what to think, say or do at a particular stimulation. As Alfred Korzybski has said, their language should structurally be the same as facts or things it represents, in all social and human interactions. They should be taught both the right and the wrong sides of life and the world, so they do not get shocks in later life. They should be taught to face difficulties, and not to escape from them.”
Would like to start with a quote by Oscar Wilde – “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing worth knowing can be taught.”
We do not employ tutors for a child to learn how to walk or talk, two of the most complicated human activities. And surprising a child learns them on his or her own. Steven Pinker notes – “A pre-schoolers tacit knowledge of grammar is more sophisticated than the thickest style manual or the most state of the art computer language system.”
“They should be trained to freely mix up with all sorts of characters in and out of schools, and deal with them appropriately. They should be taught not to be afraid of anyone or anything however strange or unfamiliar they may be. In short, they should be prepared to face the world in and outside their environs, in the first place.”
In my opinion, schools are the worst culprit on that account. Artificially putting same aged children from similar socio-economic background in a box is one of the biggest crimes against humanity.
Moreover, schools invariably teach children how to be servile, not explore their fullest, and be least effective in unfamiliar terrains. If one was to relate this to agriculture, it is more like practicing monoculture and we are well aware of what such practices do to people and societies.
Tagore once said – “The regular type of school is a manufactory and is a mere method of discipline specially designed for grinding out uniform results.”
To this, I would like to add Bertrand Rusell’s quote – “If we were all alike, it might be convenient for the bureaucrat and the statistician, but it would be very dull and would lead to a very un-progressive society.”
On that account, haven’t we already hit the wall?
“On the other hand, to me it seems Navin is allowing his daughters to escape from every ill and inadequacy in school systems that apparently stand in the way of full development of their potential.”
Development happens outside schools, and not inside. Schools just dish out information and helps the student learn how to store and retrieve that information. John Taylor Gatto aptly said – “We all have been schooled to have no inner life at all.”
Quoting Tagore again – “The system of modern schooling forcibly snatches away children from a world full of mystery of God’s own handiwork, full of suggestiveness of personality. It is mere method of discipline that refuses to take into account the individual.”
“May I understand, he’s guarding them against all negative schools of learning, and rationalizing it in the name of giving them complete freedom at home to pursue their interests?”
Learning is a perpetual process. It is like a flowing river. Learning should not stop after school or college. Unfortunately, the current education system is designed to pause learning, hence arises the need to unlearn. In a true learning environment there is no scope of unlearning because one is always open to learn, hence to new ideas and perspectives.
“I wonder how much they can possibly learn by themselves, from only books and magazines, and from only a few individuals by way of human environment.”
Almost anything can be learnt without a teacher. What we call learning is often nothing more that dishing out the syntax or mastering a technique. Unfortunately life is not about techniques, just as learning guitar is not about mugging chords. Likewise, learning to swim is not about strokes or styles but about loving and feeling water.
I want to share an incident. We, as a family, decided to learn swimming, without the help of a coach. I learnt it in 22 hours flat. Kids took much lesser time. In fact they then taught me how to overcome my fear about depths, helping me unlearn. I remember Jinan KB sharing, “Why do we insist on teaching a child when, in reality, we have so much to learn from them.”
“As for neighbourhood, they’re mostly no better than present school environment as teacher.”
I disagree with this assumption. Neighbourhood, however good or bad, will any day teach much more than the four walls of a class. Here, I am not talking about modern ‘sanitized’ neighbourhoods.
I would like to end with two quotes which I found very interesting and are worth pondering about.
“Perhaps all that education aspires to be is the preparation of the young for their role in the larger society. This is certainly a good idea for society, but in the efficiency of producing citizen workers, are we missing the deeper meaning and higher purpose of learning? Have we forgotten about the spirit of the child, the purpose of this one life and the unique and fragile expression of a passionate and integrated life?”
“When childhood dies, its corpses are called adults and they enter society, one of the politer names of hell. That is why we dread children, even if we love them. They show us the state of our decay.“
Brian Wilson Aldiss