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.
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,
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 –
http://homeschoolers.in – 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.