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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Natural Learning FAQ: If your child doesn’t go to school, how will she learn to socialise?

Before answering this question for Isha and kids, that I know, who don’t go to school, let us take a look at what kids who do go to school do in the name of socializing. There are two perceived spaces of socializing. Let’s look at them both separately.

1. With / when being watched by adults in authority
Socialising in this context means “learning to please and conform”. School is an excellent ground to train to “behave properly” even when we feel furious inside about something,  and to “say appropriate things” even if we feel very differently inside. For instance, even when we are feeling crappy and furious inside, we get trained to stand up, smile and wish our teacher ‘good morning’. Even when we feel no gratitude in our hearts, we get trained to say ‘Thank you!’ In the name of learning to socialize, we train to lead such unauthentic lives. So much so that over time, we become so disconnected from what we really feel inside, and instead constantly wonder / think in our heads about what we “should” be feeling; about what is the ‘appropriate’ thing to feel. That is why so many of us have grown into such conflicted, fragmented and resentful beings. We have one idea of “what we should be doing or saying” but our behaviour does not match that idea! And we blame ourselves for “being bad” or “not trying hard enough”.

2. With peers of the same age
First of all, kids in most mainstream schools are expected to NOT talk. Kids who stay quiet and listen to the teacher get ‘good kid’ labels. So, whenever they do manage to talk, it is made to feel like some kind of ‘cheating’ of the school rules. Even during the breaks, kids talk fearfully and carefully. There is always an air of anxiety in the school environment about whether they are speaking softly enough, appropriately enough AND IN ENGLISH (oh yes, there are schools that charge a fine when they find kids speaking in their native language!). A school is a place where one could get caught anytime for anything! At least this is what I went through in the school that I went to. Now, what about schools that aren’t so bad? Where they actually allow and even encourage children to talk to each other?  

In today’s homogenized urban world, where most people aspire to become more modern and richer than they already are, here’s what most kids I’ve repeatedly seen talk about. (From conversations that I’ve been overhearing during bus and train rides, in public places, functions, parties, on FB and so on.)  
Boys talk about gizmos, sports and girls. Girls talk about clothes, film stars, movies, how they cheated a teacher and boys. The elite among these talk about birthday parties, vacations, their dad’s cars and phones, the line of conversation being whose was more expensive and fancier than whose.  

All kids talk about how they flouted some rule at home or at school, cheated either their parents or their teachers. Basically, all their energy gets expended in talking about consuming something ‘cooler’ or celebrating a sense of triumph (in some insignificant ways!) over those in authority. A friend of mine, who neither has a car nor celebrates birthday parties in the cake-cutting way (both out of choice), was forced to pull her 10-year old daughter out of school because she got teased for being traditional, doing kolam in front of her house every morning, and for her dad not owning a car! The girl didn’t have much to talk to her peers about, because most conversations centered around consumption, entertainment, a lack of respect for adults, none of which she could really relate to!

When kids of the same age are put together to ‘socialise’ for hours on end day after day, it becomes easier for the market to influence their decisions and tastes around consumption of junk food, toys, gizmos, clothes, etc. Mainstream media finds it convenient to control and manipulate the choices of different age-groups of boys and girls because they are grouped together in schools and colleges. One of them buys something that is considered ‘fashionable’, the rest of them aspire to buy. And that’s exactly what the market wants!!


So, in short, I really think kids get conditioned to ‘behave appropriately’, ‘please authority’, ‘lose their original thinking to fit into peer-groups’ all in the name of socializing. I can now talk about what I see some children, who I see don’t go to school, do.

First of all, homeschooling does not mean “schooling at home” or “studying from home” like many people imagine it to be. We go to a lot of places, interact with people in various contexts, of different age-groups. Isha likes to connect to and interact with everyone from infants to old people. Of course she loves to be with kids her age. But definitely not for eight hours every day for five days every week, in a cotrolled environment! Some days she’d say “I want to spend the day with thatha-patti”. Some days she’d say “I want to be with my friends…..” (She has friends from different age-groups and she chooses different friends on different days.) Some days, she’d say “I want to play with …… pappa (baby)”. Some days she’d say “I don’t want to meet anyone today!”

When left free, kids who don’t go to school, connect with and interact with people in ways that they find meaningful. They are more connected to and express what they are really feeling inside; lead more authentic lives. Isha connects to people who take real interest in her and her explorations, and engage with her respectfully. Whenever she goes to the beach, she’d walk around and invite herself to sit with families (with kids), introduce herself, converse and play. When she finds the adults or the children not very friendly, she’d quietly leave. This is what I have noticed in most children who don’t go to school. They interact and engage meaningfully and share honestly what they really feel and think, and not what they “ought to” feel and think! They have the courage to initiate or end conversations. And I’ve seen this usually be done in a way that is respectful and sensitive to the people and environment that the kids are part of. Though I’ve seen unschooling kids having a little more tantrum-throwing tendencies (not wanting to accept things told to them), I think this is a better thing to deal with than kids who’ve be trained to conformity and obedience!


Nikhil Sheth said...

Thank you for answering this oft-asked question so effectively.

Anonymous said...

More often than not, children are asked to keep quiet (the unsavory, classicist reference to a "fish market") which could be a place for learning from each other and co-creating.

Sumeet Moghe said...

Brilliant piece. Couldn't agree with you more. One of your points which I think I could do with a little more articulation about is how homeschooling can be a counter to the cultural of consumerism and consumption that school seems to be a ground for.

The argument I hear is that school does nothing to actively promote consumerism. It's something mainstream media does and children are exposed to it regardless of whether they're at school or not. I like to think that if school is not part of the solution, they're part of the problem.

I'm however the father of a 6 month old and I don't necessarily have as much experience to counter these questions with as much credibility as you may as an actively homeschooling parent. How you deal with an argument like that will surely help me as an aspiring homeschooler.


Sangeetha Sriram said...

Sure Sumeet. Will write about my understanding and views on this soon!

Nikhil Sheth said...

With your permission, I'd like to chip in with my two cents to Sumeet's query: School actively promotes living in a dictatorship: doing what's told to you by someone claiming authority without you getting a chance to judge whether that person is deserving of the authority or not. And with love being replaced by strictness, rules and judgement.

It also teaches being afraid of the judgement of one's peers without getting the time to evaluate said judgement.

Next, it teaches that you aren't good enough; someone else is better than you and you need to do what it takes to trump them. These are fallouts of efficient classroom management and focus on excellence. Whether this is done through physical punishment or psychological carrot-and-stick, it's the same (actually from my experience, it's worse with the latter).

Consumerism does not work on whole, satisfied, independently thinking indviduals; it works on people who have internalized the above things. I can understand the natural need for protections in early ages; but once the child's world expands beyond the family, once they are able to be by themselves without a parent present in the room, this independence would develop enough to be able to ward off consumerism, and other than not setting an example themselves, I don't think it's so necessary for parents to be shielding their older children from consumerism - that's a tall order.

I'm not a father yet and I've been thoroughly schooled; but from my own upbringing I can credit my family's democratic (and very chaotic) structure, exposure to real life problems early on instead of being shielded from them, and my regular exposure to people from multiple age groups and backgrounds for making me resilient and never very interested in consumerist activities when I was coming of age.

aandon ganesh said...

brilliant.good going

Yvonne Mathis said...

Guidance is always key. Sometimes you have to provide it yourself. Sometimes, you have to familiarize him or her, with the process of getting this guidance from somebody else, and dealing with people who may be more knowledgeable on some things, and whose help they are going to need at some point. That's the other thing, and to all the children and parents of the world, good luck getting through all that.


Anonymous said...

Nice blog. I feel we have a narrow minded view of the word "socialize". We define socialize as something we do with beings of our own kind - other human beings. I practice a broader definition of the word - something I do with everything around me, irrespective of where I am. I talk WITH (not to) animals, plants and even rocks (e.g. "You are a beautiful rock, you have the shape of a paper weight, will you come with me and do that for me?" The unfortunate part is that if I did this aloud in public I would most likely be sent to a mental asylum.) I practice the broader definition of the word "socialize" because with it I am never alone - which in reality is the truth.