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

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(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

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World Do-your-bit-and-green-it Day

June 5, 2012 – World Environment Day

The school calendar (of all things!) reminded me of the occasion just a day earlier. I contemplated reaching out to Green Print and Street Cause EForce, but realized there wasn’t much time. Perhaps you could reach out to them, reader, and maybe I will, sometime in the future.

But thank God inspiration was on my bedside table – I picked up my big Change the World Guidebook , gathered some stationery and got down to greening the world with Mom.

Easy tips and cartoons to bribe them into helping the world

We came up with these colourful posters and baby-steps to coax people into doing their bit (yes, they are like blissfully unaware kids who need to be bribed). One of them, along with the You are a Super Power intro of the book, was put on the notice board of our apartment and accordingly a “Super Power” meeting was scheduled for 4 pm.

4:30 pm, and there were only five of us in place of the estimated 20 kids. My ex-school friends who come to the apartment for tutions saw how the carpets were still empty and I read a “Unschooling and changing the world it seems…hmph!” expression on their face. Not done. Not done at all. Resorting to desperation, I put on my adorable expression and excitedly pleaded (!) with all the kids on the block to come to my SuperPower meeting. Turns out that they were old enough to stop believing in such fallacies but I managed to drag them anyway. With the number at 15 we began. And it was a hit.

Turns out that my suspicions were right. Kids are kind, thoughtful and sensitive, but with the people and environment around they get conditioned to the comfort and thoughtlessness that comes with a carbon-heavy lifestyle. My mom told them, “Yes, we parents are selfish – we want lots of water to clean the vessels and a car to go even till the next lane. But you have to stop us from polluting and wasting things, just like myy daughter does.” *Beautiful moment* Then the kids went on to identify and make small doable commitments to make life a little more eco-friendly. Madhurya promised to make do with half a bucket of water (“except on Sundays Akka. I have to wash my hair no?”). Mehul said he’d give up riding his dad’s scooter because it was polluting (and illegal, since Mehul is just 12) Liya said she’d eat when her mom called so as to avoid re-heating on the gas or in the oven. And with that, we concluded our first Super Power meeting.

My successful Super Power gathering!

Then came the part of reaching out to the adults. The big, responsible ones who drive fancy cars and frequent expensive stores. The ones who think its their right to exploit and dirty the earth. Armed with the colourful posters, a pretty friend came along with me to stick them on the walls and windows of R.S.Puram.

I don’t know how many gave an eye or brought this to their life, but I was glad to start off somewhere. The energy never gets lost – it’s out there, working it’s magic in ways we can’t see. Let the universe work its mystery.

TEDx@Coimbatore and the aftermath

The last month has been an amazing ride, and I’m still reeling from excitement. I think my head is still in the right place but I can’t be too sure 😛

The first week saw the run-up to the TEDx@Coimbatore, where I was chosen as one of the three idiots as part of the Youth Icon contest.

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Getting up till there was fun –  I submitted a video, had an interview and multiple chances to to ‘elevate your pitch’. There were rehearsals and I was struggling to fit my talk as headstrong-unschooler-beginner in the meagre 2 minute slot. If you’re aware of unschooling and its huge challenge towards the prevailing culture and beliefs, you’d know that there is A.LOT.TO.SAY.

The big day arrived and went on well. I loved every bit of the stage and the showlights;the extra minute that no one could stop me from taking, and the attention of 300 people whose basic beliefs about education were being challenged. But what I enjoyed most were the conversations with people I had afterward. A surprising number of “successful” people agreed with and congratulated me – but I had a fair share of skeptics raining down on me. Most questions echoed with the ring of ‘What more is there to life after quitting school?’ In my opinion life in a sense starts AFTER school.

The talk also had two journalists interested in this Phenomenon of Unschooling. The result was Unschooling her way to happiness by Gautam from Deccan Chronicle (Thank you!) and It can be cool to unschool by Vaibhav (Thank you so much!). I wasn’t as happy about having my pictures in the papers as I was about the acceptability of my decision that this gave me. The newspaper is a credible platform and surely this unschooling thing can’t be that bad – I’m sure these thoughts prevented a large number of people from shooting questions (without the slightest intention of listening to what I had to say about my life and education) and giving me their opinion of what education should be. Anyway, a lot remains to be explained – which I plan to do by doing. Wish me Besto!