Trust.Children.

An amazing teacher from RV introduced me to the editor of Teacher Plus magazine this summer. I wrote this for the magazine, explaining the reasons (and beliefs?) backing my decision to unschool. Realizing that this could be a great way to reach teachers,  mom and I decided to address it more directly 🙂 Here goes.

All I am saying … can be summed up in two words: Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.

John Holt

***

(Authors note: Do not read this in a closed space. If u cannot step outdoors, at least step out of  your past experiences, future expectations and your  present conditions. Because this is as much for you as for your children)

Breathe.

Life is learning. As we look back at each day in the months and years we’ve come through, they seem alike to each other. But take one yesterday out of the journey and it’s a missing puzzle piece. What makes each day so different from the other? Look at it…It was a new step up in some learning. It holds true for everybody – we all learn. Everyday.

This learning is shaped by the experiences we have – some we choose, some just come upon us These experiences are of all stripes – the discovery of a shape in the clouds,  a fleeting thought while falling asleep, a bout of anger after conflict in the playground or a fresh mindset after travelling to another culture. The beauty of experiences is in the variety; the strength of it in the quality of learning we gain. To direct this experience-based learning actively on a large scale, guided  by our desires and interests is life-learning.

I read about life learning a few months ago. I brushed it away thinking it was idyllic and worked more only for talks. But the little acorn of ideas was planted firmly, and it grew. It grew into an enormous oak of thought that began to take root in my life. I understood that it was important to make learning choices based only on interests, because it works best. And after a small transition period, I began an active journey of life – learning.

I read a lot and write a bit, as opportunities come by. My activities include practising Bharatanatyam and studying allied arts. My list of regular activities used to be longer, but now, with limited areas the focus has increased manifold. One of these passions might well turn out to be my career! Also, there is time to do a lot of more short-term or sporadic things such as conducting programmes for children, learning web design, travel, cooking etc. as there is no externally dictated schedule binding me. There is harmony in what I like and what I do.
And I  manage to do this because I quit school.
If the real goal is to’ learn to do’ it is quite possible in the absence of school too , because there are so many sources one can learn from. As for the mandatory requirements, there is the option of open schooling.
I am completing the formal class 12 equivalent examinations through NIOS. Not only is it a nationally recognised board, but it also allows for wider freedom in subjects, methods and pace of learning.
In school, there are only six subjects or 3 streams at the higher level during the K-12 years. So much of those precious growing up years are spent in the same routine of rote learning from rote teaching. Learning is largely theoretical –bounded by limiting prescribed syllabi only.

While the key to improving  is encouragement, punishment and humiliation and graded labelling is often sought after.  But most importantly, their abilities are taken for granted. The benchmark for all is academic excellence – assuming that it is the only way forward for EVERY CHILD. As impressionable, innocent minds, they trust and allow this false notion of progress to rule their mind. With authority present at every level,  the child has got to obey, without thinking for himself. So at the end of the 15 or 16 years, after writing a great number of exams the child says I have learnt. What the child has learnt, in fact, is only to obey.

The problem here is that each child is differently wired. But there is a concerted effort to make them all alike – striving for the same  academic excellence. The uniqueness of each child – in terms of desires, abilities, way and pace of learning – is undermined, disrespected and cleanly forgotten. This does result in frustration for many and a pitiable waste of the child’s unique talents.

The abilities children possess are really undermined. It is presupposed that they are stupid and that facts and values need to be poured into them. But the fact is that each of them is blessed with curiosity and sensitivity. Once harnessed, they can do wonders. IF WE LET THEM.

The fact is that we can’t handle the genius that comes in a child. Often and openly we suppress them – when the bright kid asks a smart question that happens to be beyond the syllabus or the teacher’s knowledge, when a kid wants to give alms or questions the inequality of fortune, we just shut them up. This question or action or desire is unique. And  That is the sparkling dust of genius – so common, yet so often brushed away.
Remember the glee on his face when he discovered he could make noises – where did it go? What happened to the endless questions that tingled the child’s curious mind? During the first few years of life, rapid and essential learning takes place in children, in varied areas and paces. Yet, the child is happy and blooming because the direction comes unbounded from within. We have never felt the need to predetermine his first step – who will teach him? when will he be “thorough” with it? Assessing and grading?
because he wants to, he WILL learn it. It is as natural as life itself.

Is it possible to provide for such learning conditions for our tweens and teens? Constantly aware that I am addressing this to teachers, I know that only you can do this.
They are in your palms, waiting to be nurtured. Be the mom, the gardener, the friend, the switch button that can bring the genius out
Give them the “Yes I m interested”
“Now that’s a different thought” or you should tell me more types wala  gentle nudge that pushes them only closer to what’s waiting to be a genius.
So simple
And YOU will be the Experience(read :the best Teacher) in his life

A tribute to the Anaikatti camp and all things beautiful.

Anaikatti.The word rings with a familiar sweetness, spreads a reminiscent
fragrance… A little gulmohar, lot of open spaces and fresh air, and
maybe I smell some magic too.
Listen and smell but also look into my words to find what I want to
show you – A beautiful place and community, locked in a beautiful
time.

The Annual summer camp of our dance school brought with it a fresh
intensity and renewed magic. For 10 days I thought that “living” dance
meant the rigourous three-hours dance and theory session but there was
more in store. This sank in after I soared through those three days at
Vidya Vanam – good times fly, but through better ones I soar.

To give a box type time table or a minute to minute schedule would be
to rob you of the (over)flowing beauty of our sojourn. The essence of
it was a certain flow of instincts that were given space to lilt with
the beauty that upheld the atmosphere – whether it was in the form of
a gentle poetry appreciation session or an enthusiastic, charged adavu
session. No doubt this entailed freedom of mind and space for
everybody. A freedom that should not be mistaken for confused chaos –
instead, it was like the philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurthi said, “Right
freedom is always accompanied by order”. There was no need for
imposing discipline or motivating by rewards – order came from within.
This beautiful space was what Akka and Paati pictured when they saw
through their collaborated vision.

A lot of these naturally nice things were a result of the little
community that had formed. Senior students were supposed to take care
of the little ones but sweetly enough, it was the little ones who had
more love to give. Living with teachers in a space outside dance class
and while eating, doing yoga and laughing did a great deal in building
a student-teacher rapport that blurred fear and distance and sprinkled
some love onto the relationship.

But perhaps our greatest mistake, and joy, was in dancing with the
Anaikatti students. First, we wrongly prided ourselves in being able
to give 10 talented students of Vidya Vanam School the opportunities
availed by the students of Coimbatore – but instead, we were humbled
by how much we had to learn from them. The world may shake their heads
and pitifully call them the lesser fortunate – but, the irony! We, who
claim to be advanced and blessed, have not an ounce of the spirit for
life that those beautiful children possess. In the end it was us
thanking God for being able to learn from them.

Rukmini Athai had this to say: “I feel that the divine spirit that is behind all these arts is one. You cannot say that music is an art that should be heard only at a concert, nor is dancing an art that is meant only for the stage. All these arts cannot be real unless they become part of Life.” A unified and holistic approach of bringing ‘living the arts’ that Athai speaks of was experienced at the dance camp – not
only in the aforementioned abstract ways but also in the activities that took place – from yoga in the morning, nature treks and biosphere visits, salangai and garland making, ‘abhinaya’ dumbsharades, new (and swift!) dance-piece learning sessions.. to washing plates after eating, sitting on the floor and doing everything as a united community.

We cannot be grateful enough to Paati for giving us such an
opportunity. If she sees this, she’d only smile her big smile and say
“I’d love to have you over, anytime!” and then laugh her big laugh.
Through all the hospitality and help from her part come the waves of
strength present in her vision for Vidya Vanam school and her love not
only for the children of Anaikatti, but for the children of humanity.
Paati, if you’re reading this, thank you so much. Again and again.

Finally, I suppose our only regret is that we did not have more time
at Vidya Vanam. But with the little time we had, a lot of memories
were created to be carried back with us. (In addition to photographs
and memoirs by hidden inspired writers from amongst us 😉 ) Now, back
in class, I see a renewed intensity and a fresh beauty that wasn’t
there before; also the instincts swaying towards the beauty and
quietly asking, “Which  beautiful experience next?”

~~~

This article, with more corrections, is going to be published in Sruti magazine sometime soon!

~~~

All photographs by Aarooran Ramaswamy. Use it if you want, but please let us know.

The after-RV-life.

Not exactly, but it’s been a year since RV. A year that, took me as far away from RV as it did bring me closer.

It started out with grimness – what else, when you are requested to leave a place you love. A lot like being dumped. I tried to start again, but that’s hardly easy when a hundred ties to the past refuse to let you go …when you refuse to let go.

They gave me a new room and a phone but I still wanted my messy First room and tactfully acquired phone chits.
They gave me amazing food (such a winning point after DH ka khaana!) but I still wanted to cook my lousy maggi and eat it with.my.hands. And clear up all evidence of having done so.
They gave me superiority – but I kept harping about equality of students and not wanting the evil Captain badge.
They gave me freedom, love and so many choices… but I still longed for RV.

There was only so much I could sulk and cry – eventually they did lure me out and away from my RV Prejudice. There began a fresh insight into my past. Amazingly enough, I got over RV. I got over that lover who had dumped me and moved on without me – and just like the fresh-lease-of-life movie scene, that longing, pain and pessimism turned into a new core of ideas, values, a way of life, within me.

I began to carry RV with me.
– (Thank you, Mallika and John for repetition of this profound truth.) – because it ceased to be an exclusive set of physical entities and ideas attached to them – for example, Asthachal in the valley, folkie and all the illegal stuff – and transcended to what all those things represent – the beauty of silence and nature, community and experiences that go beyond established rules, respectively.

I dug out the experiences and unearthed just the essence of everything that RV is made of. Stripping all else that has been hiding and changing that essence – and what’s left is unlimited by space and time. If and when an ex – RV-ite finds this dawning realization, I believe that he or she has understood RV. And if he or she can carry that essence and sprinkle it on their conditions, then they have found RV.

I am still terribly attached to the place and people but I’ve found ways to channel RV into everything – twenty minutes of silence every evening, taking turns doing the chores and questioning everything – I have found my RV.

*              *             *             *            *             *

This piece was published as the first written contribution on The RV Storybook! Aravind, as *ahem* editor called the author a ‘maverick unschooler’ and boy, I llllike the sound of that.

The RV Storybook was conceived out of desire to record and share the beautiful things that RV stands for. Thanks to Atravind, it turned from a dream to a lovely little blog where all people associated with RV can come and rejoice in nostalgia. You can join us our blog or follow us on Facebook. We’re only too happy to share RV with you.