Why would you even ask it?
Probably you would even close this tab once you realize the question that I am asking today.
Why should you send your kids to school?
Three months ago, I met this confident young lady Janani at the film making workshop that I took part in. “I am homeschooled” she said, her first line of introduction. Though I have read a bit about homeschooling, it was exciting for me to meet a person who learns for the sake of learning, who has no deadlines yet does so many things, who lives an unconventional life.
I had so many questions for her and she was kind enough to answer all of those along with letting me publish it here. Here is Janani’s story :
A: How would you introduce yourself when you meet strangers? ( I am curious because it is very comfortable for a person like me who has always sought comfort behind the shade of degrees to say – I am BE in Computer Science.)
J: Till now it’s been easy for me because I’ve been “in school” so I’ve been able to say that I’m in twelfth and that I study at home. Some people get the concept of homeschooling while some others just can’t seem to accept the fact that a person can study at home, by themselves without another ‘examing’ them. For such, I just tell them it’s sort of like a correspondence course.
The next year I can’t say I’m in school and I’ll probably say I’m interning and studying botany, fine arts, and psychology. There will still be those who need a name for my ‘course’ and then we’ll have the awkward conversation about how I’m not doing a course as such and hopefully most people will understand though a good percentage will just think it strange.
I’m thinking of being a naturalist (another term that needs explanation) and a photographer. The latter doesn’t need any qualification so hopefully I’ll be ok
A: Ok. Now can you tell more about your childhood and how did you get into homeschooling? What do you do/learn these days?
J: I was in mainstream education till my sixth though I can’t say I had mainstream thinking parents. I distinctly remember my father coming for one parents-teachers meet and when the teacher started on how I was doing ok in most subjects and that over all my grades seems to be ok, my dad said I know that, I read the report card. Then he asks her if I’m having fun and doing ok otherwise . I think she was quite relieved she didn’t need to perform another dissection of a marksheet!
Appa started out as a software engineer, and Amma an architect. Both very mainstream jobs until they set up a company for innovation consultancy(yet another term that needed explanation). They were quite disturbed by how people were blocked in their minds about new ideas and new ways of doing things. So, they started doing a study on how the system we all go through makes us as robotic as possible. Appa went to people at different age groups, in different institutes and taught them for some time so he could judge how blocked they were.
He taught working adults, Mba students, college goers, school kids and found that even at the first standard the ‘robotizing’ began. How else can one teacher manage 40, 6 years old? How can she cater to each learning pace, to each kid’s interest? She can only take the average pace, the usual interests and hope that most of them make it through. There’s nobody to blame, no fingers to point.
He then visited an alternative learning centre called Bhavya learning centre. He says, he sat there with the kids as they played in the sand pit and realised there was innovation. The kids came up with all kinds of play, new ways of using something. Sometimes a way that most of us would term not ‘right’ but, it would serve their needs just fine.
So they offered us all, my two siblings and myself, a choice. They asked us if we wanted to continue in the school we were going to or if we wanted to homeschool. We all chose the latter and my cousin also joined us in our first few years. We went around to lots of places to learn how we should go about it. We went on a month long yatra to Gujarat trying to learn the Gandhian methods of learning. Came back, sold our house and went to Coimbatore with a plan of settling there.
As we are now in Bangalore, obviously the plan hasn’t worked but apart from a year and a half stint in an alternative education centre, we are still home-schooling.
I now ‘intern’ at my mother’s new initiative ArtyPlantz and after finishing basic maths sciences and English, am now studying botany, psychology and fine arts.
A: What is homeschooling?
J: Hmm… ok difficult question.. Homeschooling can be different depending on the people doing it. One can study at home with tutors; go to separate different classes for each skill you learn; follow a fixed syllabus by yourself and then write an exam as an open candidate; or just learn by reading different books, going to different places, meeting different people, doing a little work here and there.
What I do/did doesn’t follow any one of these alone. For every different skill I learn, it’s different. I studied my basic subjects in the Cambridge syllabus and was prepared to write a tenth exam until the alternative school I was learning with asked me if I wanted to write a twelfth exam only seeing as cbse had scraped or was in the process of scraping the tenth boards, one may not need a tenth certificate. That’s all I was writing the exam for, a certificate and since I didn’t need it anymore, my exams got postponed two years.
After many more months where my family went through a sort of upturning, introspective period and amma and appa started ArtyPlantz. I had always been very enthusiastic about gardening and nature, but ArtyPlantz opened up a whole new world to me and I now work there. Because I’m the youngest in the office and still technically a kid I get to pick and choose what I do So I guess now I’m doing option 4…
A: Tell me your typical day? Your week? Do you have it all planned out?
J: No sooner do I plan out a week and it all gets upturned by a new fantastic idea that comes along! I do try to plan somethings out but it hardly ever works. Any new opportunity that comes along to learn I take. It sounds very haphazard but somewhere in that chaos a lot of learning takes place.
A: One apprehension that I have with homeschooling is the lack of social activities. Did you face such an issue? What is your take on this?
J: For a couple of years in between I did have a relatively ‘lonely’ life. Every person’s need for social interaction is different. I am actually relatively happy to be left to myself. Every now and then, I work intensively with a group of people. Go on a workshop or training sessions or a project. For now it’s my work. Anybody who tries will be able to find many people with common interests, maybe a club or a group.
Sure, you might say that I don’t know what it is to stay with the same group of people for years on end in school. It’s true I don’t, not that much anyway. But is that really necessary? Will there ever be a time in the future where you’ll have to use skills that you can learn only in such a setting? Again this will be different for different people… I am a relatively adaptable person, so, I find no difficulty in functioning without those skills.
A: Would you recommend it to the parents who want their kids to be homeschooled?
J: A parent who is willing to give his/her children their entire time? Yes. While not all children need handholding through their learning, all children need someone to see if everything is working fine, if the child is getting enough exposure to what he wants, if he has difficulty somewhere, or if there’s some special learning that’s needed.
My parents took a sabbatical for the first year of our homeschooling and they were always there. Through the second, they worked from home and when their work started eating at their time, we started learning in an alternative education centre. It was only when they quit their jobs and felt they had more time did we start homeschooling again.
Another thing that is necessary is the mindset to be open to learning. It took a lot of time, reading and talking to others before my parents could completely rid themselves of all ideas that they had from the mainstream lives they had been leading. The ideas of tests being necessary, the idea that everybody must study a certain set of subjects at least, the idea that learning mostly happens with a book or another form of an educator. The idea that it is necessary for us to study form a certain time to a certain time every day.
It takes a lot of unlearning to be not just a parent but a child, homeschooling. If they are prepared for it, if the environment around them, the people around them are prepared for it then yes, go for it!
A: What is the role of the parent who want their kids to be homeschooled?
J: To give the child just enough exposure. Every child has something that they are brilliant at but they need to find that. They should explore with the child. Homeschooling is an adventure, and one that needs a lot of energy.
A: Do you see problems with the education system?
J: Like I said before just the fact that it is a factory and they try to robotize without meaning it just because there is no other way one person can teach 40 others. This is a blanket statement of course and would probably mostly apply to those in the middle of the bell curve.
Another question to ask would be, do we really need so much academics pumped into us? But of course there are many sides to this one and one can’t assume much.
A: Any thing else that you want to share?
J: If you are really thinking of homeschooling, take a good amount of time off. Look around for people in the alternative education sector. Go and speak with them, stay with them and really ask yourself if this is for you.
Also be very ready to turn every ideal and rule that you have upside down and examine it. This would require you to unlearn everything that you’ve ever been taught. Of course this is if you want to take full advantage of the fact that a child’s entire life can be written by a family. If you are not ready for that change and responsibility, you can always just do a form of distance education.
Like I said, it is a great responsibility. One I used to feel quite terrified of. I would make huge lists of things I needed to learn and compare my progress with others in normal schools until we decided not to ever write an exam. Instead, I now learn by actually doing projects with people and training under them. I am now 17 and can work on par with many professionals.
A: Wow, it was really great talking to you Thank you very much for sharing.
J: Pleasure is mine
(and the conversation concludes)
I know what you guys are thinking. Yeah, I have not discussed this decision with my wife. Hell, I don’t even have a wife! Looks like this will be a major reason why many of the girls will reject me. Well, anything for my kids
You can connect with Janani on her website or on facebook. .