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Explaining Unschooling to Skeptics

Explaining Unschooling to Skeptics
By Dola Dasgupta

People often ask me what is unschooling and why don’t I send my children to school. The earlier me, which was a paranoid, perfectionist, professional, wanting to excel, kind of human being, would have gone on a rampage of blaming the school system and modern education each time this question was asked of me. But I am none of those now; unschooling my two children, Gourika age eleven and Ishaan age seven, changed that old me! Now, I just smilingly say, “Oh we just love to be in each other’s company, doing all the things we like to do at and in the comfort of our homes, stepping out only for those things that really drive us or we are passionate about. Schools are great but they don’t suit our unique needs and desires.”


Those who see us perfectly happy alone and in each other’s company, often curiously ask, “What about socialization?” The old lonely and angry me would have gone on a rant of how cruel the world is and who needs to be around people who hate who we are anyway. But now I joyfully say, “We are learning to be fully there with our own thoughts, emotions, feelings, and moods so that we may better understand who we truly are and what it means to be fully ourselves without the pressure to conform to social conditions that come from teachers and peers. We are spending enough time with our own minds and focusing lesser on what impressions my mind will catch from social, cultural, or educational inputs that are born of someone else’s mind, so that we learn to be fully and consciously aware of the roots of our thoughts and actions.”

I recently was fortunate to attend a talk by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and he said, “The modern education system gives no value to the mind and its nature. There is no value given to the understanding of emotions and feelings. No education is wholesome without the understanding of the nature of the mind.” I felt happy and peaceful to be validated by the greatest soul of our times.

My children spend a lot of time with each other and at home with me. They have no choice but to face, walk through, resolve, and learn from conflicts that surface in each of us. We learn the communication tools needed to stay in harmony and balance with each other. My children know their energies so well that they socialize not under any peer pressure but only when they feel heart-to-heart connections and when they feel drawn by interest in the other person’s passion and life. So they surprise the most skeptical of adults when they start a conversation with them or engage in play with a child much younger or older than them in age. I feel children who feel safe and secure to be themselves fully and express their emotions fully without being judged at home, are often the ones who go out there and forge harmonious relationships with people outside family.


That socialization response seems so unreal to most that their next question is often meant to throw me off balance. “But do you think watching television and sitting in front of the computer or toying with the iPad will help them in gaining any knowledge?” The earlier fearful-of-multimedia mother, who looked at TV as the idiot box, would have gone on a sleepless guilt trip and imagined her children watching violence and pornography on TV and Internet and would have nightmares about her children growing up to be mass murderers who shoot school children with guns! But now this peaceful-with-all-things-are-learning-tools-for-my children mother says, “My son learns about the world from surfing the Internet. He has knowledge of history, geography, geology, gemology, astronomy, architecture, paleontology, cosmos, global warming, scientific phenomenon, films, animation, art, cooking, numbers, currencies, phew…from the Internet.”

My daughter learns to sing with ear plugs and YouTube songs with lyrics. Her knowledge of films and music is all from the Internet. She watches videos of animals giving birth and pictures of different breeds of dogs, as she harbors a quiet dream of running an animal shelter one day. She plays complex video games with other kids all over the world and writes messages online, proving to many that she can read and write without being taught to do so by a teacher. She is in tune with the latest fashion trends and keeps a sketch book of her fashion drawings.

Projecting Fears

The next question invariably is about obscenity and vulgarity on electronic media. I must admit, I am surprised that my children have never naturally felt any need to watch anything that is “vulgar or obscene.” This question comes from the minds of adults who grew up in repressed environments as children and had to sneak out for their dose of forbidden things. The unpleasant outcomes of those adventures are still painful memories for the adults and hence they fear TV, Internet, and other media and operate from those old fears of painful memories. But they mostly forget the reasons that drove them to sneak out and seek adventures with unpleasant outcomes in the first place. The adults forget that the reasons for such adventures were to start with prohibition, restriction, and moralization.

The root of that old fear is what parents want to propagate with their children, which brings in the same results of children seeking misadventures in the wrong places. Sometimes when adult and vulgar images or content pop up on the ‘net or TV, my children are more curious about knowing what it all means and why do they show such stuff on the ‘net or TV. And that leads to healthy conversations between my children and me. We talk about sex, sexuality, pornography, prostitution, violence, etc., like any other topic.

Of course, the real work is being done by me, the parent, in cleansing my fears of sexuality and violence. As a parent, when my children ask a question that causes discomfort in me, it acts as a cue for me to understand the root of that discomfort in my mind and body. Invariably, it is because of some unpleasant experience stemming from my past, which needs my attention and healing. This detached process also prevents me from projecting my fears and ignorance onto my children. It also helps me to be a more alert, attentive, and compassionate parent to my children and their real and immediate needs.


When the skeptics hear of this from me, they say, “Oh well, who has time with school and work and the daily routine of life, to indulge in such processes?” I smile and respond, “Exactly the reason why we unschool so that we have more time and space for such slow and internal learning and integration of knowledge and self-discovery.”

By now, we all know what the next inevitable question is going to be: “Well, all of this fine but what about getting a job or finding a livelihood or earning money?” Hmmm…I say to myself silently, “With eighteen years of leisurely time spent in self-discovery, finding a livelihood will be easier than it has been for me who spent twenty-five years of my life in formal education and still could not figure out a job that spoke to my heart and represented my unique gifts.”

But this is what I say aloud: I tell them that my daughter wants to be fashion designer, singer, kennel owner, homemaker, and stay-at-home mother. My son wants to be an inventor, archaeologist, architect, linguist, professor, artist, and world and space traveler. “And how will they become all that if they do not go to school or college and take exams?” is the logical next question. I explain to them that when there is a seed of desire in the heart, and that seed is watered and nourished with creative and lively inputs from the environment in that moment, in which the children are growing up, the plant will sprout and the tree will grow and the Universe will support and bring the required nutrients and help the tree to blossom and bear fruits. The children will dream freely and the power of their dreams will manifest the desired results for them.

Growing as Nature Intended

I attended a terrace garden community gathering recently where there were many urban farmers. One showed us how to make soil out of dried and decomposed leaves and also showed us mulching. After we prepared the bed for the soil, we filled it with layers of dried coconut leaves and laid it with decomposed leaves and we then stepped on that with bare feet. It felt so soft! Once the bed was filled, the woman farmer got a whole lot of soaked seeds from the kitchen. She had soaked them for three hours or so. They were a combination of pulses, beans, oil seeds, and spices. She also explained how the moment the seed came in contact with water the process of germination had already rolled in, but invisibly, and that is why they soaked it only for a few hours. She explained why sowing sprouted seeds was harmful, as sunlight would dry up the sprouts too early and they would not grow so that we could cut the plants and add them back to the soil.

She told us how in Ayurveda (the ancient Indian wisdom of medicinal herbs, health, and healthy food) the food that we grow and eat is based on nine Rasas. (In Sanskrit rasas means attributes or traits, but also emotions.) She said that each of the seeds that we sow will germinate and take root over a period of three twenty-one-day cycles. During that time, we need to cut parts of that green growth and add it back to the soil to “green” it. The reason for doing this is so that the roots of each plant will attract different microbes to the root, each enriching the soil with their unique nutriments. This will create biodiversity in the soil. And over a period of time, the right soil for growing food will be ready. The best part of this process is that every season will have its own beans, pulses, and oil seeds. The best soil is a right mix of brown and green!

Then we covered the planted seeds with more dried and decomposed leaves. The purpose of this was to avoid exposing the soil to too much heat or cold. When the weather is hot, the leaf cover will keep the soil cool and when the weather is cold, the leaf cover will keep the soil warm! Are we consciously doing this to our children or not? I feel school and modern education has very little scope for this kind of organic protection for real and durable growth to happen.

Why am I narrating this whole example? Well, I want to illustrate that, given the premise that human beings are part of this planet just as plants are and, since scientifically it has been proven that all living beings are essentially made up of the same molecules and atoms, what holds good for the plants holds good and true for human beings too. For the soil of the soul and mind to enrich, all Rasas – that is all emotions and attributes – are necessary for fruition. Each child will attract according to his or her inherent nature the right ingredients (microbes in the case of plants) to come to fruition.

What I explained about making soil ready for growing food is a long and patient process. This process takes root mostly under the earth with no visibility above surface. It all happens mysteriously in darkness. So is the case with children. I am pretty much convinced that school and the modern education system have no space for long, patient, and invisible processes. Instead, unschooling is the path for this long, enriching process.

Dola Dasgupta lives in Pune, India. She considers herself to be a pupil of life, a traveler through time and space, whose life is vibrant. She is the mother of two children, ages eleven and seven. Through the Swashikshan Association of Indian Homeschoolers – – she supports parents who wish to home educate their children and provides counsel to parents who wish to know more about attachment and spiritual parenting. She is also an avid blogger – – and uses social media to spread awareness about life learning.

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