You are committing a sin.
You will spoil and ruin your child’s life.
You are mad.

These are the reactions of a few people when we tell them that we will unschool our child, Qudrat, because we believe that the present schooling system is harmful. The natural learning spirit of all children gets suffocated as soon as they enter the four walls of school and their innate search for meaning is reduced to mindlessly preparing for ‘big’ exams. In the name of competition, they are made to suspiciously view their fellow classmates as enemies. In the name of discipline, they are forced to see, hear, speak, behave and act in a certain manner. Moreover, the teacher takes on the role of someone who should be feared (like a jail warden). Such experiences instill nightmares of jealousy, dependency and fear that prevent children from becoming healthy, honest, collaborative and creative human beings.

We are not alone in our decision to unschool Qudrat. We have many role models in Gujarat who have been successfully unschooling their children for several years. For example, our friends Raju-Deeptihave made a conscious decision not to send their son Ruchir to school. They explain, "We believe that nothing can be taught. Learning is an intrinsic process and right from birth children want to expand their learning horizons and even parents should not interfere in their natural self-learning processes. Therefore, as parents, our responsibility is only to nurture our child’s diverse learning interests." Ruchir is now 11 years old and he also says that he doesn’t want to go to school. Since his birth, Raju-Deepti have facilitated Ruchir ‘s learning by seeking to provide an atmosphere where he is encouraged to take risks to learn things by himself. Every year, they design their own family learning programs with Ruchir —exploring and creating new ways of living together. Ruchir also publishes his own children’s magazine called Phoolzar.

"If you don’t send Qudrat to school, he will grow up illiterate and uneducated."

At the outset, it is important to question who is a ‘literate’ and an ‘educated’ human being. The entire framework of modern schooling is designed around processes of transmitting, coercing, manipulating, controlling, etc. If viewed objectively, the schooling system represents one of the most violent forms of child labour as it brutally represses most children’s mental and physical abilities and seeks to fit into a pre-set mold. Furthermore, it provides no space for them to organically develop their emotional, psychic and spiritual dimensions. It is interesting to note that the Yashpal Committee (1993) reported that in schools around the country, "Much is taught but little is learnt or understood." If this is indeed true, then it is questionable whether those who have Degrees can really be called ‘educated’.

We have a deep faith in processes of self-learning, collaborative learning and intergenerational learning — which have all been totally misunderstood by so-called education experts. Children have the intuitive power from birth to understand and develop their self-learning potentials throughout life. For this, no teacher, no school or no NCERT is required. Moreover, our understanding of literacy is not naiively limited to only reading/ writing, but it is extended to and integrated with all forms of communication, art, aesthetics and creative expression. We believe that to live a meaningful life, one must be self-confident, imaginative and be able to do things practically and sensitively. It is our responsibility as parents to support Qudrat in processes that develop these capacities.

Unschooling doesn’t mean that Qudrat will remain trapped within the four walls of our house. Rather, he will interact, learn and understand with many diverse kinds of people and be able to create dynamic and lasting relations with them. Lastly, unschooling doesn’t mean that we become Qudrat’s teachers. Instead, we see ourselves as co-learners — sharing and growing together.

"You are denying your child his right to a bright future — without a Degree he will be nothing."

Degrees are necessary only for those who wish to fit into the System. For those who choose not to fit in the System, the lottery ticket of schooling has no value. We draw deep inspiration from friends of ours (in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh) who, a few years ago, together burnt their academic certificates. This was a form of resistance against (and liberation from) the present System. They are now engaged with diverse social and spiritual movements, experimenting with different ways of living.

The dominant ratrace model of Development forces people to adopt the toxic worldview that they can survive only by exploiting themselves or others. We do not want to participate in or take any benefits from this kind of System. It is our conscious decision to seek out ways to disengage ourselves from it and to create our own ways of being.

We have been thinking about and discussing these larger processes of swaraj in our family since 1996. It began in the context of our own individual lives as we sought to heal our natural learning spirits from the damage done to us by institutions of thought-control and to re-discover our infinite potentials. We must understand that the swaraj process is not about meekly fitting into the System, but involves radically challenging and questioning it. Swaraj ultimately requires that we embrace deep changes in our own lifestyles and create new patterns of livelihood and self-governance. This can only be done by clarifying our life visions and priorities i.e. how we want to live. And by understanding the self-deceptiveness and futility of, on one hand, trying to challenge the System while, on the other hand, keeping our or our family’s options open to join it.

Invitation to those in search of meaning...

As we ourselves are ‘schooled’, we have to seriously unlearn many things that have been instilled in us by schools and other institutions of thought-control. Those individuals, parents, teachers, researchers, policy-makers etc. interested in exploring meaningful and non-exploitative living can start by:

  • Making time to reflect on one’s own personal strengths, weaknesses, potentials, learning styles, learning experiences, needs and wants, and sharing these with others;
  • Organizing a group of parents so that they can collectively facilitate their own and their children’s learning in unique ways and start processes of rethinking their lifestyles;
  • Conducting applied research studies to understand the phenomena of unschooling and the diverse forms it takes in communities;
  • Creating a base of public pedagogical resources that can be easily accessed by those who wish to undertake unschooling processes;
  • Fighting against policies of compulsory schooling and delinking schooling and degrees from public/private benefits.

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