Home-schooling as a Model to Achieve Greater Freedom in Education

homeschoolingFor my dear Home-schooling and Un-schooling friends, and specially for those who had contributed their experiences for this meet This folks, is the long overdue report  on what I shared about homeschooling at  the 6thannual School Choice National Conference that was held on 19 December 2014 at the India Habitat Centre, Delhi by CCS (Centre for Civil Society). Many of the attendees were principals of  private schools and  the discussions were primarily about how the RTE had made it difficult for private players in the field of formal education. Homeschooling was not a  concern with the majority at this meet, and many were hearing of it for the first time , so I decided to give a simple introduction to homeschooling and since I had been introduced as a storyteller, I decided to use some stories  of our children to talk about homeschooling. So here is a very simple presentation of  the complex  real struggle and estacsy that is your every  day experience Home-schooling as a Model to Achieve Greater Freedom in Education Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Marconi, the Wright Brothers, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Issac Newton, William Blake, Leonardo Da Vinci, Hans Christian Anderson, Rabindranath Tagore,  and Mozart….. Yes, shameless name dropping ! that’s how  I started my talk. In my defense, it was post lunch and a comfortable room and I had to get the attention of people with whom home schooling was not really a priority. Since this was not a homeschooling forum, I decided to use the opportunity, to introduce the topic by answering some of the basic questions that people ask when they first come across the term, or meet a person who is homeschooling his/her child.

  1. What is home schooling?
  2. Who are these people who opt for this method of learning? and why?
  3. How do children learn the three Rs if they are not sent to school?
  4. What about Socialization? are these children able to socially interact with other people?
  5. What about higher education? jobs? adult life: are they able to participate in any of this?

What is home schooling? Home schooling is a lot of things, and all of us are home schooled at least for the first few years of our lives and in the past most people were home schooled. But given the context of this meet and its link to formal schooling and the RTE, it makes sense to limit the definition. So for today’s discussion, parents who do not send their children to school for a significant period of time, between the ages of 6 and 14 and instead allow and support their learning to take place in the home environment will be referred to as homeschooling parents. The children are homeschooled children and the process of learning is called homeschooling. Who are these people who opt for this method of learning? It may be happening in families in villages and far flung places but the ones I speak of today –  are educated and economically – what one could loosely term as middle class and upper middle class families. The cross section of parents whose children will be mentioned here include writers, journalists,  researchers, social activists,  doctors, architects, software professionals, storytellers and teachers. They are quite representative of the general population of homeschooling parents today. Why do people opt for homeschooling?  (from Aravinda Pillamari’s book,  was tired of telling the sad story again… so with her permission… have copy pasted the details of our reasons for homeschooling :)) Many parents believe that children  should have the freedom  to think, to dream, to imagine, to create, to question, to answer, to wonder, to chatter, to ponder in silence, to make glorious mistakes. The system, does not encourage any of these, in fact  these are stifled through punishment and shaming. Home schooling allows for the much needed time, space and freedom for this to happen. It could be that the formal system is not geared  to address the  needs of the individual student or that the goals and methods of education in the system are totally different from that of a family. The reasons are many and varied. There are parents, who have come to homeschooling, because they have studied extensively about the pros and cons of this system, they have thought deeply about it at a philosophical level. I wish I could say that our decision came from a beautiful, well thought-out philosophy, that we knew what we were doing. But the truth is that our decision came out of great misery, pain and anguish at that time. It was heartbreaking to see how little the system had to offer to our children and what a high cost, it extracted from us,  all for its measly and sometimes rude offerings.  We wanted our children to grow into free-thinking, compassionate and responsible individuals. We wanted our children to have time to think about matters, not be punished for thinking.  Suffice to say, what school as a system had to offer was quite different.  Its goals were quite different than the dreams we had for our children. It pained me to see that our elder daughter, who loved learning and even studying was beginning to lose her joy of learning. She did not respond well to the competition and shaming process through which well meaning but overburdened  teachers often try to motivate children.  She often asked “why can’t I stay at home with you and study? Why can’t you be my teacher? I like studying with you”  The simple answer was that I lacked the courage, for she was still doing well academically in school.   In 1994, I did not know that there was a way out.  And so every day, I watched the light go out a little more from my beloved child’s eyes, as I resolutely put her in her uniform, plaited her hair and sent her to school.  We no longer had time to wonder; we had lost autonomy over our lives and had become slaves to the system. We had our fingers crossed when we put our younger daughter into a mainstream school.   She was bright and intelligent, but she had a profound hearing impairment and we were told that she would not be able to manage in a “normal” school.  But she had worked hard to learn lip reading and to speak with her voice and  through playgroup, the two kindergartens and the first standard, our fears seemed unfounded.  She had wonderful teachers in school and she was excelling in academics.  But things changed soon after she went into second standard.  She became fearful, withdrawn, and her grades kept falling.  We wondered what was happening. Then I learned, just by chance from another child, that my younger daughter was being punished and beaten regularly for four months by her second standard class teacher because the teacher had decided that she could actually hear and was a “bad” child who was pretending to be deaf.   This meant that for four months because of the teacher’s ignorance, apathy  and sheer cruelty my child had to go without lunch and without a toilet break the whole day.  Moreover the class was told not to talk to her because she was a bad girl.  In the second standard, the teacher is God and every little child in her class kept away from her.  Unknown to us our daughter started believing that she was a bad girl.  All we heard were,  her whimpering in her sleep and the gnashing of her teeth loudly through the night, and in the morning, she would get up crying in absolute terror not wanting to go to school. When I asked my child, why she had not told me this earlier, she stood there tiny and thin, “I did not tell you, because I thought that then even you will think I am a bad girl and not love me anymore.”  We showed  the principal and teacher the audiograms that were regularly taken from the time she was two and a half  years old, we talked to explaining the nature of profound deafness, that the child had learned to lip-read and had worked hard with her therapist to speak the way she did, and we talked our daughter into going back to school.  But things did not change and the decision to remove our younger daughter from school was taken. My elder daughter asked why she had to continue when her sister got to stay at home.  Once she finished her fourth standard, we took her out of school too and started tutoring both at home.   We undid the fear and pressure factors to a large extent.  The rigour and long hours of rote were done away with.  Shaming and hostile competition as the prime motivator was removed too and most importantly we got back the joy of learning.  A learning that was mostly self-driven by the children. How will children learn the three Rs if they are not sent to school? While some parents do have a curriculum varying in flexibility, from very flexible to one being  more structured and intensive  then what a school would require, there are those who follow no external curriculum at all.  They believe that children come to this earth with their own curriculum and will naturally gravitate to their area of interest and the parent’s role is to be mindful and support the blossoming of this natural curriculum. Ishaan must have been around six years old at the time of these incidents. He has never attended a school, he does not follow any set curricula or fixed external timetable, except the one he sets for himself. He has not been taught the alphabets or numbers formally. He spends a lot of time on the internet, playing games and watching you tubes on subjects of his interest. He loves watching films  and is very interested in and exceptionally good at drawing tall towers, tall skyscrapers, monuments, complicated ships,   and urban skylines with an eye for detail and flourish that belies his age. Ishaan’s  love, for tall structures,  led him to want to learn the alphabets and spelling of  words that he wanted to search informative you tubes about. So he asked his mother to give him the alphabets that interested him and he learnt: E  for Empire State Building B  for Burj Al Khalifa C  for Chrysler building W for World Trade Centre E for Eiffel Tower B for Big Ben T for Titanic H for HMS Victory As  Ishaan  searches information on these, one can only imagine, the stories, the history and geography and math that each of these monuments and ships will lead him to and he will ask his mother for the next little help as and when required. Another day, he drew the Empire State Building and numbered the floors against it. He then told his mother that the Empire State Building has 102 floors, If they had just 93 floors they would have just 9 more floors to build. Yet on another occasion, he asked his mom, how high each floor in their apartment was, she replied perhaps 10 ft, he fell silent and after 2 days, he came back to his mother and told her , ‘our apartment has 8 floors, perhaps it is 80 ft high. ‘Perhaps’, responded the mother, ‘you are very close, but maybe we have to add a little more for the basement and the little concrete between floors. His mother does not ask him , how he figured all this out,  Every day  it is being proved to her  that children know how to join the dots of what they see hear feel touch  and that they make sense of this world in their own way and share their world view with their parents- she is watchful that he is allowed to develop these  faculties and that she is there to be of help on this journey.  http://childrenmypartners.wordpress.com) Which brings us to Khiyali, another homeschooled child. Her mother says, that   ‘Counting verbally’ came uneventfully to  Khiyali,  but when numbers became numerals and the number 10 appeared on the page not with its own symbol but with a one and zero,  suddenly her little world changed. Till then the system of enumeration had been simple, where every number had its own unique symbol and there was no concept of place value. On seeing 10 she flung herself on a chair and cried trying to make sense of this new world order.  The parents let her be in her creative agony, they did not rush to explain, for she had not asked for an explanation. Processes were at work within her and they were not to be interrupted with parental anxiety. Parental inputs would come later.  A few days later , she explained to her parents that the 0 in 10 stood for the nine numbers  before it  and the two 0s in 100 stood for 99 numbers before it.  And she also explained that if you subtract 6 from 10 you actually subtract it from the 9 and then add 1 and if you want to subtract 64 from 100 then you actually subtract it from 99 then add 1, later her parents also taught her the concept of borrowing in subtracting as another way of resolving the matter and after due consideration on the merits of the different ways to go about the business of subtracting , she accepted borrowing  as the method of her choice (https://jivanshala.wordpress.com) What material and resources, syllabus do homeschoolers use? For homeschoolers,   the whole universe is learning material and  resource, but those who have formal education structures in place, either follow a single  standard syllabus or a mix and match of various syllabi put together keeping in mind the personal needs of the child.  Additional resources could  come by virtue of their parents , grandparents, extended family members interests; through sports and hobby centres in the community. Also  now the internet  is a much more vibrant place, with all kinds of information on every subject under the sun; there are  virtual games, virtual classrooms, subject specific online chats, mentors, you tubes …. Homeschoolers are always on the lookout and proactively avail of  and share all that is available. What about Socialization? are these children able to socially interact with other people? Some children are very shy , and they remain so whether they go to school or not, but by and large, I have seen that they are as social as other children , in fact they are better at inter-generational and inter social communication, as they are used to interacting with people from different age and social  groups and   in a  more relaxed manner and are not locked away with children of the same age group, constantly monitored by authority figures and  externally imposed set of rules for long hours. Niom, the youngest of three homeschooled siblings,  is about 15 now. His main activities and  interest are playing football, playing video games and surfing the internet. A few years back,  he decided he was ready to read, and learnt by printing words of songs he liked and reading the words he already knew, and by trying to read the words on the back of video game covers. In a year, he was reading . He too has never been formally taught the 3Rs , His parents step  in with their own inputs and provide  tutors as and when specifically requested by Niom. A few days back, I visited his mother , we got chatting, when beautiful music caught me by surprise, I looked up and saw  Niom  sitting straight thin and austere  , in his  pajama and kurta, which has clearly not kept up with his recent growth spurt . The music belonged to another world and  I was a little embarrassed for tears were flowing  down my cheeks, his mother was very understanding, it seems it happens to many who hear him playing the piano.  later as we left the room, he was still playing.  I noticed the old red shawl he had  placed carefully  over his shoulder. Its something  he always wears when he is playing music, I like to think it is  to honour this sacred space, his sacred music. Niom has not been taught music formally, but about a year back, he pestered his mother to teach him to read the music bars and has been practicing reading and then playing for long hours on his own. When asked , Urmila, his mother  says that all her son’s learning commenced from his interest in football. I asked her for a tangible example, how this adds up to history, geography, mathematics, basically  subjects that are taught in school . ‘Well’, she said, ‘ for starters when you have seen 1000 of football matches you know all the flags, all the capitals, culture, food  a lot of trivia about every country, then you get curious and  look up and find more interesting facts geographical, historical about the country.  just today he has been talking about enclaves and exclaves and interesting borders between different countries’;  she called him and asked him if he would  tell me what he had told the family about interesting borders. And I had the most interesting and funny  lesson on borders and the importance of cooperation between borders . I also feel like knowing more about Netherland and Belgium and then maybe the countries around, my interest has been aroused, learning could follow, for this geographically challenged 55 year old! Apparently the Netherland and Belgium border is  marked with tiles between the two countries! no barbed wire, no shooting … just beautiful tiles. Now these tiles run through car parks, so you could park your car in one country or another in the same car park,; restaurants, so while on a date you could be sitting in one country your date in another as you lovingly hold hands and look into each other’s eyes, or even through a home and room, so you could be sleeping in one country and your sibling, partner, mom whoever is on the same bed could be sleeping in another country! But he added seriously, you can  get your utilities from one country and pay your taxes to this one country only, and which  one is that? I asked.  that is decided by the location of your main entrance. What if the tiles run through the main entrance, I asked…. well  it does in some and I am not sure what they do, they have two addresses on the door one for one country and one for the other, while some just shift the position of their front door and voila problem solved. Then he told me about the Schengen visa, and that these two countries  have no problem , you can play hop skip and jump between the 2 countries as they are very friendly to each other.  Do we have such places with interesting borders? I asked… “well yes, Bangladesh has a tiny part that lies totally in  India and they had no way of getting utilities from their own country. He paused a while, then said ‘thankfully India gave them some land that they could use to connect them to the rest of the country, then he paused again, and added but that took 44 years! At  lunch,  he asked me  was whether I would take a bet on a certain fact, being old school and more interested in the wholesome food his mother had offered, I tried to skirt the issue by saying,  ‘no, my father taught me that betting was bad’… but he went on to explain the chances of winning the bet through probability , he had  got it from a YouTube that he had watched.  It was an interesting 2 hours of music,  impromptu geography lesson and a riddle involving probability. Much better social interaction than I have seen in many mainstream schooling homes, where the children just get up and go away when you visit after they have been forced to greet the visiting adult. At the annual meets, I have seen these children, play and run and laugh and cry like other children. I have seen them  work together to put up plays and work of art both with or without adult help. So yes homeschooled children can and do socialize. What about higher education? jobs? adult life;  are they able to do any of this? The answer to all these questions, is yes, yes and yes!  All this is possible and more. Mathew Peedikiyal  has built a life for his children that involves prayers, spirituality, formal  academics – chores, play, hobbies. He pursues a curriculum that is much more intensive than schools,  He uses amongst other things,  textbooks, different mix and match of curricula. Coursera. YouTube. his eldest daughter  who is 15 just gave her O levels IGCSE this year and awaits her results. Divya Tate: is another mother who chose to keep her children at home.  Their grandfather gave them the basic lessons in the three Rs, and soon the boys were doing most of their own learning. Their mother is an architect and an international cyclist, so they naturally became very good cyclists. The elder son is most interested in the sciences, physics being his favourite subject. His interest led him to study by himself and appear for the IGCSE where he got the highest grades in the science subjects. He took admission in a college, but preferred self study, so now he is preparing for his Cambridge exams and for the  IIT Joint Entrance Exams through books, online resources,  chatting with online peers and guides. The younger son Pankaj too gave his IGCSE exams and  now has taken up sports and music. My elder daughter gave her IGCSE, passed with very good grades and joined Fergusson college , graduated with English literature, she later  completed her  MPhil in Development Studies from Oxford . She now lives in Delhi. She is a writer, researcher ,trekker, dancer and is interested in the performing arts. She worked as a researcher with Centre for Policy Research and now she is working on various socially relevant projects in the city. she is 28 years old. My younger daughter she  gave her NIOS, got good grades,  joined Fergusson, met up with her classmates from the second standard,  performed with excellence throughout (her profound deafness not withstanding), graduated with psychology as her major subject with distinction, and then joined NID in Ahmadabad and completed the 4 year course to become a Graphic Designer  and now lives independently and works with a well known firm in Bangalore as a Graphic Designer. She too is a writer, a poet and an artist.   She is  27.  The last time, I visited her, she told me  that she  is thinking of ways to engage with the disabling set up in society that puts perfectly capable people with one or more senses different at a total disadvantage! So yes, higher education and a fulfilling meaningful independent life in society is very possible after being home schooled. Homeschooling and the RTE Even though the number of people known to be Homeschooled are very few just now, the growth in the last 10 years has been phenomenal from  a mere two known  families,   that were struggling on their own to  more than a 1000 known families .  These families form a vibrant network, sharing, supporting  and meeting regularly; and if the level of interest it generates among lay parents is any indication, the numbers are poised to grow in leaps and bounds. What  homeschooling parents are doing, is in no way in conflict with the goals of the RTE, which is to make education available to their children between the age of 6 to 14. However, the  RTE in its current avatar,  has equated free and compulsory education to attending a formal school, when the truth is that, there are many other spaces in which children can and do get educated in these formative years – the home being one of them.  The RTE will  make itself more relevant when it includes homeschooling in its understanding of free and compulsory  education.

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2 Responses to Home-schooling as a Model to Achieve Greater Freedom in Education

  1. kristin says:

    I homeschooled 4 of my 6 children and found this very interesting. All are grown now, attended college and some have advanced degrees. All are gainfully employed.

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