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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Natural Learning - FAQs 4

If you don’t send her to school, then do you teach her everything at home?

‘I’ don’t teach her everything at home.
I don’t ‘teach’ her everything at home.
I don’t teach her everything at ‘home’

The word home-schooling does not reflect what we do since we neither stay at ‘home’ all the time, nor do any kind of ‘schooling’, which, to me, stands for a indoctrination of certain values, and a training in certain skills based on that value system. But we use the word for that is what most people are even vaguely familiar with. Life-education is a better word, since we learn as we live our lives, whatever the different living contexts and situations throw up, and this automatically ends up being relevant to her and our lives! Natural Learning is another word I use.

Isha learns from so many people she interacts with everyday in many different social contexts inside and outside home. When an electrician or carpenter comes home to fix something, she watches their work and asks a hundred questions. She knows to ask Rajeev’s grandmother about recipes or Malayalam stories. She sits by her grandfather’s side when he does his everyday puja. My father-in-law is a radiologist. She sits with him and has learnt to identify precisely which part of the body the x-ray image is of. She learns about vegetables and grains at reStore. When we sit in a circle with the restore staff for lunch, she learns how differently people cook the same vegetable. (The vegetable that gets left behind in the previous day’s bazaar gets distributed among everyone!) When we travel by the bus sitting by the window, she learns about the city and the lives of different kinds of people, especially street vendors. When we take the local train, she watches flower vendors with their baskets of loose flowers stringing them together. She learns about farming and farm animals when we visit village farms. She learns about different lifestyles as we visit different people’s homes (with and without TV, with and without househelp, organised and cluttered, etc.) She learns craft when she is with older kids exploring them. We go to dance recitals and temples. She watches older children playing musical instruments. When we go to my parents home, we spend evenings on the terrace watching groups of birds returning home, as the sky changes colour. She learns about plants and home remedies from our apartment watchman, who comes from a local village.

The list of who teaches her, what she learns and where, is actually endless!

Once when we were visiting a village, she saw a group of villagers sitting in the shade of a tree and discussing something. She kept hearing the word ‘Murungai Maram’ (Moringa tree) and asked me what they were talking about. I asked her to go find out for herself. She approached them and asked “What are you talking about?” They included her in their conversation about village beliefs about where it was auspicious or inauspicious to plant moringa tree and why. And interestingly, different people in that group had different interpretations and explanations for their beliefs, which were sometimes debated. She was quite fascinated by the whole experience!   

If you protect her so much from the harshness of the world, how will she be able to face it when she grows up?

First of all, when we let a four-year old to directly deal with the harsh world, they won’t learn to face it. They will get hurt. A hurt child, who does not have any tools to protect herself, is likely to build walls around herself, and get either aggressive, manipulative or withdraw. Being ‘aggressive and manipulative’ is what our society calls ‘facing’ the world. But they are in fact ways of ‘coping’ with the world.

In my understanding, the thing that children most need in their very early years is safety, both emotional and physical. I can’t imagine young children feeling safe when they are  shoved into a building with the gates closed behind them and separated from their parents and not allowed to do what they really want to be doing. And when they are spoken to rudely and feel their personal space violated in so many different ways, if they do not have someone that they trust to run to (for eight hours a day) where they feel loved and safe, then they begin to withdraw, be aggressive or to manipulate. When they are repeatedly told that they don’t have a choice about this matter, then they resign to the situation. Resignation comes out of a lot of frustration, anger and fear within. When we become resigned, we learn to ‘cope’ with the situation. So, what most of us call ‘facing’ is actually ‘coping’. We learn to falsely embrace the life-thwarting value system that our society is based on in order to merely survive. (How often have we heard people say “You need to learn to lie and cheat in order to survive in today’s world!”) We learn to play by the rules of the unfair game, and become dull and aggressive adults without experiencing any real authenticity or joy.

‘Facing’ the world needs a lot of courage. Facing the world means ‘expressively celebrating what is live-giving and positive’ and ‘boldly critiquing what is life-thwarting and negative’. And being prepared to own up to the consequences of both.  

When our children are immersed in a world that operated from a life-thwarting value system, they feel choked and slowly train themselves to embrace it in order to survive. It is the other extreme to isolate them from the harshness of the world in the pretext of protecting them. A third way, which I find meaningful, is to provide children a safe base, which is built on what I understand as a life-affirming value system, where they really thrive and experience authentic living. It is my hope that, staying rooted in this space, if they engage with the outside world, they can meaningfully face it, and become change-makers. So, let us meditate on the difference between facing & coping and immersion & engagement.

Related post: Secure Base: Confidence = God: Vulnerability

How will your child survive in the competitive world out there?

My daughter may not be able to survive in the competitive world out there. But I ask, why should she merely survive? I mean, why not ‘thrive’? Why should she participate in the competitive world and fight for seats in colleges and corporations? I mean, why not ‘create a different world, be an educator, a leader and an entrepreneur who creates meaningful professions and livelihoods for a new and more peaceful world?’ Even if she wants to pursue engineering or medicine, there is competition only if you want to join the work-force. If someone wants to offer something really unique and meaningful, then there isn't competition there! 

The question itself often gets asked from a space of fear ‘Oh, what if I don’t survive?’ It gets asked from a space of lack ‘Oh, what if I don’t get enough?’ This may be true when we are focused on engineering and medical colleges and corporations to join the work force. But if we look away from them, the world is brimming with so much abundance! As our climate changes, as we reach the ‘peak oil’ and as our economies crash, the world’s need for engineers, doctors and old-world teachers (indoctrinators) is going to decline. It’s demand for healers, lovers, artists, musicians, dancers, theatre artistes, conflict-resolvers, farmers, life-skill trainers, servant leaders and life-educators is going to go up. 

This is what really happened in Cuba, when it faced an artificial "peak oil" because of the US embargo, after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990. All of a sudden, the demand and respect for farmers, traditional-seed savers, organic farming experts, skill-trainers, renewable-energy experts, etc. skyrocketed. Engineers and doctors were forced to learn these skills as well, for their own survival. Watch Power of Community, a film that shows Cuba's story of overcoming its oil crisis, by fundamentally reorganising its way of life.

There are unlimited vacancies in the 'Department of Peace and Healing' - healing the soil, mind, bodies, societies and families, cleaning the air and water. Out of these are going to be born new professions, to enable a new way of living, in order to build a new world. Here are a few examples!

A friend of mine who chose to not pursue college was passionate about snakes. He is now a much-sought after snake-catcher and wild-life educator in Goa. Another friend who chose to walk out is a conflict-resolution facilitator and gets invited by many communities to help them resolve conflicts. Another one is in great demand for training in natural farming. Another one is a pranic healer. Another one is sought-after for his millet cooking training and anchoring. These are not laid-out paths. But that’s why we need path-makers and game-changers.

There is no competition out there for path-makers and pioneers. There are so many things out there that are waiting to be discovered, created and pursued.  I am hoping that children who are allowed to freely explore their lives and their world, with exposure to and opportunities to engage with the reality of our world (with all its violence and lack of innocence), will be better equipped to be path-makers, grounded in practicality. 

Competition in the outside world, then, becomes irrelevant to them!


Watch this video about what a 15-year old who quit school invented! and ask yourselves, who might be his competitor?


Aravinda said...

True that first paragraph … let's not forget *everything* … do you teach *everything*?

Annie Abraham said...

I completely agree with u. I live in Oman. Have been homeschooling my daughters for the past 2 years and this is the best decision we made. No regrets. As of now I am the only Indian in Oman homeschooling kids. Haven't met anyone. So it's a great encouragement reading your blog. God bless . Annie

Sangeetha Sriram said...

Great to know Annie! Please stay connected. Are you on facebook?