An Experiment With Freedom

"Learning and playing are not two separate activities. The modern systems alienate the child. Not only the children but also the adults." - Jinan

Jinan

I got involved in educational matters while doing my Engineering degree. In fact I dropped out for a year to be with children and "taught" in a primary school. The most important issue seemed to me lack of free thinking in us due the strong conditioning we undergo at schools, in society, by parents etc. To me being with children also meant to look at my own de-conditioning process. This was in 1983. Later from 1985 to 1988 I studied at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. Here I felt even our sense of beauty is being conditioned. I started addressing fundamental issues related to learning, creativity, originality spontaneity, role of culture etc from this time. After I graduated from NID I decided to live in rural tribal areas in order to address my own deschooling/decolonising and de-conditioning) process. I have lived in Nagaland, rural Bengal, Orissa etc working with the traditional crafts people trying to imbibe what ever I can and taking care not to impose my notions. Over a period of time I have evolved a methodI call DO NOTHING METHOD which actually means the name itself - just let things happen. From 1993 onwards I have been living in a potter's colony in Kerala. As a collective process we have developed several products which if you are interested can see at the site www.kumbham.org

I have been doing lots of things with children. 2 years ago I adopted a child. I am not going to send her to school as she is already learning. The reason why I went to live with rural tribal communities is because through what is called education I felt one is being culturally up-rooted. Our world views are totally altered . Most importantly our intuitive abilities get destroyed and distorted through education. Today, after nearly 15 years of spending time with so called illiterate people I feel through education one becomes ignorant and arrogant. Only totally ignorant and moronic people can bring the planet to present condition through their development and planning. Just in about 200 years the so called modernity with its so called knowledge has succeeded in bringing the mother earth to near destruction. The ecosystem people has been tending the earth for centuries with their knowledge system

I feel the biological element in knowledge which prevents creation of destructive knowledge is destroyed by the domination of reason over intuition. Reason is after all of the self/ego where as intuition is of the collective /life force. I would like to share some of the personal experiments I did to address my conditioning process. In the field of beauty I stopped reading the theories and simply immersed in doing/making things - of course without planning. I realised that we have lost the ability to sense true beauty as factors like fashion/theory/status/pretension etc come in our way. So I tried to reject thought from coming in between my feeling and beauty. That is, to become completely honest.

From 1991 to 2000 I stopped all kinds of reading. All kinds of theories/especially newspapers and magazines etc except letters. This helped to do a thorough cleaning. The last book I read was Walden Pond. At that time I was living in a very small village in Orissa, around people doing things/learning creating knowledge and I had been wasting time on looking for knowledge in the wrong place. Only in authentic living there can be knowledge. The Educated people all over the world think alike. So living with rural tribal communities helped me to look at the world differently and use intuition and experience to create and redefine knowledge.

The do nothing method I wrote about is actually to protect from"Modernity". I got this name from a farmer in Thirunelveli (Tamil Nadu) where he has a farm called Do Nothing Farm, where what he did was to fence the farm from other interferences so that the nature does the remaining work. So is the case with children. It is we who are going wrong and it needs real attention not do harm the child with our so called good intentions and love. In the rural/tribal situation children are totally left free and explore the world on their own. One big difference I see is in the way feeding is done. A rural child eats alone by the age of 2 and does the activities at home and work place by 4. To the modern mind doing things at home is labour but to the rural child it is part of growing up. Learning and playing are not two separate activities.

The modern systems alienate the child. Not only the children but also the adults. Modern houses are not friendly to child. Children like to take part in all the activities of parents, especially the kitchen work. Usually till the age of 4 the children do not get to see how cooking is done and the children are excluded from other related activities Each household in rural tribal situation has all the basic knowledge needed for survival. How to cultivate, how to build, how to make things and basic medical treatment. What education has done is to devalue all this and accept the western notions of poverty, health, development etc. Today the globalisation is further taking away whatever knowledge is left with ordinary people through their readymakes etc.

I have been documenting most of the activities of children especially their games; the toys they make etc. One most important aspect of their games is that they develop all the faculties of a true learner. The senses are sensitised, they get to plan, do things; body balancing is done. This is where I see the biological aspect of learning/knowledge at work. It seems it is the nature that has evolved these things.As part of my own exploration I did a retreat with friends on how to start the de-conditioning process. At that time I called this "Against the tyranny of reason". This was a three day retreat where we deliberately stopped planning, thinking etc and led a some what irrational life. Also we tried to spend time with heightened sense awareness. I have interacted a lot with people doing natural farming and nature cure and the basic notion they hold is that it is nature that does things and we need to let that happen. Forest is not man made. Nature does it in the most appropriate manner .Similarly in health nature does the curing if we allow the life-force/nature to cure. It doesn't take any PhD scholar to understand that life sustains life and multi-speciality hospitals are not needed for this. This is true of learning also It is a natural process.

Let Kids Learn Their Way

"If we want the child’s curiosity, initiative, originality, creativity and sensitivity to be preserved, we do need to provide an opportunity to the child where these things are not snubbed before they blossom" - Vineeta

Vineeta

Academics is only a small part of growing up and learning. Now, what kind of academic work you are going to do with your children depends on your belief system. But sadly, many times, we deal with the children in a particular way that will lead them to grow into a particular kind of individuals which is quite different from, in fact most of the times, exactly opposite to, what we actually want them to be. A few examples here will help you see what I am trying to say. 

1. We want our children to become interested in reading. So we keep on insisting, they must read. When they are small, they might read also because that is what will make us happy and their acceptance is dependent on this one factor. But, except a few cases, it does not make them people who are interested in reading. The moment the pressure from our side is removed, they would not want to read. Instead, if we provide them with an environment where there are lots of books of their interest. We ourselves read the books and let them join us if they want to read. If they don’t join us in reading, that’s their choice and accept it. This way, they might start getting interested in reading a little later but this would be a life-long gift we would have given them.

2. In terms of academic work, again we have to see, what we want to achieve out of this whole experience. If we want the child’s curiosity, initiative, originality, creativity and sensitivity to be preserved, we do need to provide an opportunity to the child where these things are not snubbed before they blossom. If we set a schedule for the child where the child has to do a particular task decided by us and fit into a routine prepared by us, the child will definitely learn a host of facts and figures and will also learn to conform. But the child would have lost on all the other essential aspects that I have mentioned earlier. To preserve the child’s curiosity, it is very important that we allow the child to follow what catches his/her attention. Only then a desire is converted into an initiative. And then let him follow it in his own way and accept mistakes as natural part of learning. He will make mistakes, analyze it, find out why this mistake happened, find a new way, try it again and follow the process till he has perfected it before he moves on to the next thing. This way, he would have asked many more questions during the process and found out not only the answers to the questions but also how to reach those answers. This is what a child is essentially doing right from the time he steps into this world, though not at a conscious level. This gives him an ability to find unique and innovative solutions to his problems. When he encounters a new problem, it does not send him thinking, in which book he will find an answer to this question. He looks at every problem as an opportunity to learn and explore and goes ahead without getting exasperated and frustrated with the hurdles. How I look at this whole thing is the huge learning of life skills through this whole process as against finishing reading and answering questions from some of the textbooks. 

3. There is another issue involved here. What I have found is that normally when we decide the time and content of a task for a child, it is quite possible that at that time the child wants to do something else. So the concentration and quality of involvement becomes a casualty. Having gone through this kind of experience over years at a stretch, the child gets very disinterested in everything he undertakes because he learns to look at it as a part of fulfilling someone else’s expectations and besides he has never had an opportunity to relate to whatever he does. On the other hand, if we let him do whatever is of his interest, he will automatically be able to concentrate on the task and relate intrinsically with whatever he does. The results are phenomenal here because in this way all his energies are focused on whatever he is doing. This helps him experience a kind of satisfaction of putting in hundred percent efforts and seeing its outcome. Over time, he will try to create that kind of satisfying experiences in whatever he does and he will not be satisfied with something lesser than that. It is possible that in this process he might do lesser things by our standards but then he would have mastered the skills that would stay with him no matter whatever he does.

4. It is not essential that the child will always be in a mood to do something. As a consequence, there will be times when the child does not want to do anything and is getting frustrated due to boredom. This is an experience in itself. What I do in such a situation, I just be with them helping them through this feeling of boredom. Quite often they just feel frustrated and stay in that mood for some time. I understand that it gets hard. But what works best for me is just be with the child without getting upset. At some point of time, the child decides to come out of this spell of frustration. With the passage of time, the frequency, strength and duration of these decrease. But if I were to assume that this disappears, I won’t be realistic because it is very natural to be in that state sometimes. 

5. During this process what I find most difficult to do is to keep my mouth shut in situations where I see what the child is doing is not going to work or when I am gripped with a feeling that I know better than the child and can help the child avoid that frustration. I find that it is a very short-sighted goal which solves the problem for the time being and ignores the broader prospect.

6. Having gone this way with the child, the child learns to take responsibility and bear the consequences of his actions with full support, acceptance, love and respect from the people who matter the most to him. Once we have been able to achieve this, the child is on his own as a responsible, sensible and sensitive human being. Then if the child decides to do something in life, be it taking an exam, learning a skill, taking up a job or whatever, he will take full responsibility for it and put in his best into it.

7. When the child wants to do things that we put under the category of academics, we get involved with the child and help him learn those skills. Here also if one can design a program that is self-exploratory and experiential rather than teaching based, it really helps. I know that is not a problem these days. So much is available these days on the net and in the form of books. I also realize from the mails that most of the homeschooling parents take that path. What is crucial is your approach in whatever you do with the child.

8. It really helps if we don’t take charge whenever the child shows slightest interest in anything. Let the child decide how deep he wants to go in the matter and how much time and energy the child wants to invest in a particular instance.

When my children were small, there were times when we didn’t do anything academic for months and then whenever they got involved in certain things, it occupied them completely, while playing, eating, sleeping, all the time. We were always there to provide resources and help them pursue their ideas. Sometimes, their projects would be academic, sometimes based on  construction of one kind or another. We learned most of our maths playing cricket, keeping scores, averages, percentages and other kind of data involved at their own initiative. When I try to bring in any aspect, I do so with an understanding that it might or might not be accepted. If they reject it, I accept it. If for some reason, I don’t accept their rejection, I learn it the hard way that I should have. When they accept my ideas, they pursue them and take it in the direction they would like to. We would read the books when they wanted to, we would do sky watching with our telescope. One thing that is good with learning at home is that since we don’t have to spend on the fees and other things, we can invest in some other things that would be of greater use. When they were small, I used to display their work and stories. By the time they were five or so they were already reading and they started writing by the time they were seven or so. Writing is always restricted to the very minimum initially, till they are comfortable with it and their muscles are well developed to take the strain of writing. 

Once their initiative, interest and curiosity have been preserved, there is no stopping them from doing anything they get interested in. They take full responsibility for themselves. 

Home Education & Socialisation

"If she grows with full freedom and unconditional acceptance, she is going to grow into a balanced and mature human being who can form relationships very comfortably." - Vineeta

Vineeta

Normally parents worry about the socialization of the child with his/her own age group. In fact it lends the child with an opportunity to interact with the people of all ages. They play with the children of their age group in the evenings and also interact with the people of all age groups with equal confidence and surety. They naturally move into this process of socialization when they are ready. If we look at life, we see that dividing children into different age groups is a very unnatural situation and not an ideal one.

Another worry parents have is the exposure to ‘on stage presentations’ which is not possible in a home schooling situation. In fact what I have found is that if we don’t make a big deal of the need for such things, the children don’t have a fright for talking to people or presenting anything when there is a real need to do so. In a real situation when they need to do such things, they just do it without any problems. All they need is the self confidence and conviction in what they are doing. If we have been able to preserve that, we really don’t have to worry about anything else. What ever problems they will come across at that time, they will also find solutions to them. Of course there is no problem in going in for theatre workshops or participating in On stage presentations if that is what the child wants to do. It is only best to wait till the child is ready for that.

My child clings to me because he/she does not have any company of his/her age. How can I solve this problem?:

I can tell you one thing from my experience that most often, the child clings to the parents not because the child is deprived of companionship of her age. It is the child’s genuine need to seek her parent’s company, Only a parent can provide that companionship to the child especially when the child is small and till the child demands it. The best way to help the child socialize is to go at the child’s pace and as per the situation permits. Generally if we don’t make it a big issue and provide the child with our companionship instead, it does not become a problem for a long time to come. 

It is a huge responsibility to learn together with the child at home. You have to be a parent, a teacher, a bread earner and a companion, all at the same time. It does get tough for a parent when there are no other children but then you have already made a tough choice. 

Generally one reason for which the parents want their children to socialize is the fear that if they don’t socialize, they will not learn to relate and interact with the others. They will not be able to share and accommodate other’s needs. This is actually a needless worry. When children receive loads of love and acceptance and they know we are there for them in all their ventures at their terms, the rest takes care of itself. They become very comfortable relating to anybody and anything because they grow into individuals who are very comfortable with themselves. They are very sure of themselves and are not easily threatened by disagreements. They would know how to resolve conflicts if we have set an example for them by dealing with the problems and relationships in a calm and positive way.

So I feel it is not much about how we find friends for our child. It is more about how we relate to our child and how we lead our life. However I think today, home schooling is much easier because there are so many families, though spread apart by distance. Still it is possible to have get together at regular intervals so that you and your child can meet like minded people. And if you have a child in the neighbour hood with whom your child can relate to and it is possible to make it every day affair, it does help because it is like a breather for you which you desperately need when you are with the child twenty four hours a day. 

However when the children are nine years or so, it becomes easier to find their companions and it is easier for them to adjust. 

My child does not want to go out to play with the other children. He is missing out at learning social skills. How can I make my child go out and mix with the other children?


Each child is an individual. One might be more inclined towards socializing as compared to the other. What helps is to accept it as it is, to let the child be and wait till the child is ready to mix up with the other children or people. Some times children do not want to go and play with the children in the neighbour hood. It does not help to push the child to do so. May be the child is just happy being by himself. Or may be the child experiences some aggression from those children. Or may be the child has some health problem. So it helps to look at the situation in a very rational way. If we are able to pin point the real reason behind why the child does not want to go and play with the other children and try to deal with it, it will help the child to be comfortable with the idea of socialization. 

‘If I wish to home school her will her social skills get affected? ’

In a home schooling situation, it is true that the child will not be going to a place every day where there are many children of her age with whom she can spend some time. But then she will have time to be friends with the people of different age groups from the neighbourhood or the learning situations she selects for herself. However, I have a question on how positive the social interaction is in a schooling situation.

Also, it is important to consider, why is it that you don’t want to send your child to the school? Definitely there are some aspects of the system which you just can’t put your child through. If you are so determined to keep you r child away from these influences, then you can definitely see that socialization is a part of growing up which you can have in various other ways. If not through schooling, you will find other ways of socialization which of course won’t come as easily as in a schooling situation, but will be much more enriching. 

One thing that I always feel is that when the child relates to the other people in an environment of freedom and caring, only then the skill of socialization develops. And a school situation does not provide any of them. So, even though, children are put together day in and day out, majority of us are still at a very rudimentary level so far as our social skills are concerned. Many times, I think that we all need to seriously rethink about what we mean by socialization and social skills. 


Will she be not missing the mischief, happiness etc of a normal school?

Do you want your child to be a part of the mischief our youngsters get into these days? Are you happy about the things our youngsters derive happiness from? Happiness derived through mischief is actually a kick and not real happiness. Real happiness comes from a contented self. When the child has high self esteem and self confidence, sensitivity and sensibility, every thing related to life leads to a kind of satisfaction that leads the child to happiness. But these are the very things that a child is robbed of in a school situation. Perhaps we need to look at how do we define happiness?


Will she be able to mix up and attend college later? could she make friends easily then? 

Well! If she grows with full freedom and unconditional acceptance, in a sensitive and caring environment, she is going to grow into a balanced and mature human being who can form relationships very comfortably. She will also be mature enough to see what kind of people she is comfortable with and what kind of people she would like to avoid. If she is not comfortable with any of them, she will still be comfortable being alone as long as this is a conscious decision for her. 

What is important here is that we as adults don’t blow this whole issue of socialization out of proportion. We respect their decisions as they are growing. If we are able to understand child’s position and share our opinion or reservations with total respect to the child, the child is able to look at our suggestions without feeling threatened. What makes the child social is the child’s own comfort with herself.