Here is a little playbook on our experiences with co-designing and co-hosting the Unschoolers Winter Camp at Shikshantar.
An Illiterate's Declaration to the Literacy Preacher
First Published in 1996
Translated and Adapted from Mewari by Shri Dayal Chandra Soni and Vidhi Jain
CHAPTER 1: THE DAY DAWNS EVEN IN THOSE PLACES WHERE THE ROOSTER DOES NOT CROW
1. Listen to me O’ Preacher, Campaigner of Literacy and School Education! Listen to me O’ Liberator, Benefactor of the down-trodden, poor illiterates and the uneducated.
2. Since you have come to my village and my home as a guest, I welcome you and I very much appreciate your visiting me.
3. I am grateful to you for the slogans you have shouted, the songs you have sung and the drums you have sounded to awaken me.
4. I am also grateful to you for having undertaken this journey on-foot, and for foregoing the comforts of the city to see me.
5. I am again grateful to you for being so worried about me. I have given my full attention to all of your preachings.
6. If I understand your basic mission, you believe that we are ‘illiterate’ and ‘uneducated’ - a ‘black spot’ on the nation. And because of this, you are deeply ashamed of us.
10. Up until today, you alone have spoken and I have been a silent and respectful listener of your sermons. But today, it is your turn to pay attention and listen to what I have to say.
11. Please take note: I too write the alphabet, but not on a slate or on a piece of paper, as you do. I write my alphabet on the surface of the fertile soil of my fields - my spade is my pen. The fruits of my alphabet quell your hunger. You gobble them up happily and without complaint.
12. On the other hand, you hold a pen in place of a spade and dig your alphabet on paper. What is produced by this paper farming of yours is a mystery to me. Do you even know what grows there?
13. You always maintain a clear and deliberate distance from the milk-yielding cows, she-buffaloes and she-goats, but at the same time, you find it difficult to resist consuming dairy products such as milk, butter and curd.
14. There is a marked difference between our life styles. While I am engaged in productive activities all day and night, you are engaged only in consuming what I produce. Yet I lead a more peaceful and content life, while you constantly complain and create trouble in society with your insatiable discontent.
17. My activities and my interactions provide me with rich learning opportunities on a daily basis. On the other hand, you are unable to tread the path of education without direction and coercion from your classroom teachers.
18. Whereas your education is restricted only to your books, my whole existence is a rich garden of learning.
19. Your school is by no means a source of real learning. Your school is nothing but a trader in the commodity of education. The real source, or the mine for learning, is the WORK in which one is engaged and whose company I constantly live in.
20. Since you are not aware of my educational achievements, let me tell you that I am a specialist in agriculture, I am an expert in dairy work and I am a scholar in my local dialect.
21. My learning is apparent and authentic in itself. I do not worry about being awarded any certificates to prove this.
24. Mother learning is not a captive in the prison of the schools. Nor is the basic knowledge of life contained in and restricted to the jumble of the alphabet and numerical figures.
25. Like the all-pervasive God, learning is present in every atom of this universe. Learning is an unstoppable or ceaseless activity of devotion.
26. Learning, in its infinite forms, is a universal phenomenon. The stereotyped, monotonous and uniform pattern of education in your school is not suitable for supporting the multiple faces of learning.
27. Dawn and daybreak take place, even where there is no cock to crow and announce the morning. In the same manner, learning takes place and goes on freely, even where you do not start and run a school.
34. Yet I would not be so arrogant as to deny my need to further my education. But how can I agree to your claim of deserving to be my teacher? In my mind, you are not properly equipped to take on this role.
CHAPTER 2: IF SCHOOLED PEOPLE WERE REALLY EDUCATED, WE WOULD NOT NEED SUCH A LARGE POLICE FORCE
38. Dear Literacy Missionary, My Brother! I am sorry to say that you do not know the real meaning of education. That is precisely the reason why you consider yourself to be educated.
39. Real education is not about changing one’s attire or their spoken language. True education is that which clarifies and elevates one’s moral conduct and one’s character.
40. The educated person would not consume without also taking part in producing. The educated person would not only selfishly seek to acquire things; he would also give or contribute something. The educated person would reduce his needs and necessities to their bare minimum.
41. The educated person would first serve others before feeding himself. And he would not desert his tired and exhausted companions. He would try to care for them.
42. The educated person would not pose as a valiant hero in the presence of a weak person, nor would he be submissive to a person stronger than himself.
43. Learning consists of doing one’s duty with devotion. Learning is to strive to attain Truth, Auspiousness and Beauty (Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram) in life.
44. Learning is not limited to the acquisition of knowledge or skills, nor does it lie in the collection of certificates or the passage of exams.
46. Real learning cannot be evaluated within the short period of three hours, which are allotted for answering the questions asked in an examination. The real test of learning extends up to the time when a person breathes his last breath.
47. An educated person does not require a watchman to stop him from doing anything immoral. He is his own watchman to guard himself from wrong-doing. He sticks to truth as his protector of morality and does not waver from it.
48. A person who is trustworthy and illiterate is far more educated than one who is not trustworthy but literate.
CHAPTER 3: THE SCHOOL DESTROYS OUR INNATE COOPERATIVE SPIRIT
56. The course of school education is opposed to the innate nature of children. They come with a longing for play and outdoor activity. That is why children are not enthusiastic about the school.
58. But having realized that children are not naturally interested in the school course, the school management mercilessly uses the whip of competition and rivalry to motivate friends in the same class. Thus, in the absence of genuine interest, the school creates an artificial interest around the curriculum, interest which is based more on anxiety or fear than on the passion to learn.
59. That is why whether or not he learns anything in school, a schooled student is destined to get caught up in a vicious cycle of rivalry and competition.
60. In this manner, each student is made a secret enemy of his other classmates. Thus, mutual love, trust and the spirit of cooperation are killed and buried in the grave of competition.
61. A sense of equality and the virtue of contentment get burned in the oven of the school.
68. The schooled person, of course, knows how to get served by others, but he does not know how to serve others. He is endowed only with a cynical logic and rationality, with which he tries to degrade and minimize the contribution of others.
69. The school motivates its graduates to run over others, to abandon all sensitivity and compassion for others.
70. Let me eat while the others cook; let me speak while the others listen. Let me measure, weigh and judge others; but let not anyone else measure, weigh and judge me. Such is the attitude of the schooled person.
71. Only I matter, and I am important. Others are neither important, nor do they matter. Let the crops of the others be destroyed without irrigation, but let my garden be green and flourish. This is how the schooled person behaves.
72. The real problem of today’s society is not that the working class is illiterate. In fact, the real problem is that the schooled people of our society are averse to work, particularly to any sort of physical labor.
74. O my Literacy Teacher, had you been successful in removing the anti-manual labor mentality of the schooled folk, you could also have succeeded in removing the illiteracy of the laboring class.
75. The school not only inculcates a hatred for physical labor among its participants, it also inculcates in them an attitude of not working seriously, even in their academic or official commitments.
76. The schooled person feels that all of the serious work that he should do in his life, he has already completed, by preparing for and passing his school or college examinations. Therefore, he has no incentive or will to use his mind, outside of what is prescribed by the education authorities.
CHAPTER 4: LEARNING IS A CHARACTERISTIC NOT ONLY IN HUMANS, BUT ALSO IN NATURE
82. It is wrong to think that learning is a feature only of human life. Nature itself is full of learning processes. Your fear that learning is absent or non-functional without schools is totally misplaced.
83. For billions of years, Nature itself has been undergoing a learning process. It is engaged in continually educating its living and non-living creations.
84. Had Nature not been educated, it would not stick to any law of self-discipline. There would not be a day in the day-time and a night in the night-time.
85. From the very beginning of this world, each stone has sought to shape itself under the flow of the river water to perfect rotundity, so that it is valued and worshiped as the idol of Lord Shiva. The sculptors equipped with the hammer and other tools of carving an idol came to the world stage much later.1
86. Tell me: where did the moonlight learn to raise the tides in the ocean? Who shows the flowing rivers the meeting point with the sea?
87. Tell me: where do the twigs of a plant learn to express their joy through flowers? Who teaches the wasp to sing a hymn when it greets the flowers?
89. Tell me: where did the peacock learn to dance and the cuckoo learn its sweet musical song?
90. And tell me: who teaches a mother to lovingly nourish and raise her infant, which was once a burden in her womb and a painful delivery? What sort of education converts the blood of the mother’s body into the milk of her breasts!
91. You are wrong in thinking that the gardens are educated and the forests are devoid of learning. You do not know how well educated the forests are.
93. But prompted by misunderstanding, so moved by pity, you have undertaken the monumental task of ‘gardenizing’ all the forests.
CHAPTER 5: YOUR SCHOOLS ARE CONCEALED ENEMIES OF MY LOCAL LANGUAGE AND MY FOLK CULTURE; THERE IS NO COMMON GROUND FOR OUR COMING TOGETHER
98. O’ preacher of school education and literacy! Let me ask which schools taught Prince Siddhartha to abandon his legitimate right to the throne. And also let me know which university conferred on him the title of ‘Buddha’!
99. Also tell me about the university in which Vedvyaas, the author of the Mahabharata, got his education? Please tell me where the saint-poets of India ¾ Tulsidas, Soordas, Meera Bai and Kabirdas ¾were educated.
100. What would have happened if these great poets had been educated in the modern, English medium convent schools? What if they had preferred the English language over their own?
102. The result? They would not have produced such great literature, because they would not be able to attain the required mastery and self-confidence in English. And they would have considered it below their educational dignity to produce literature in their own language.
106. Spontaneous self-confidence can never be attained in an alien language.
117. The basic purpose of education is to allow the unique personality of each student to open up, to help the flower of his special genius to bloom. But the school of today does not in any way fulfil this primary purpose of education.
120. The pillars of education lie in the local folk culture and the local language. But alas O’ Preacher of Education, Missionary of Literacy, you have ignored and negated this basic principle of education.
122. In older times, there were crusades for religious conversions. Today’s schools are also engaged in a vicious crusade against the people’s own local culture and their own traditional and spontaneous forms of communication.
123. Local folk cultures and locally spoken languages constitute the vital blood through which these unschooled people are continually empowered to face harsh physical conditions and barren environments.
124. The content of your school education sucks out the vital blood-power from these self-sustaining communities. It also kills their self-confidence.
125. In my local dialect, the sacred herbs that protect and nourish my life can be found. But you, O’ Literacy Missionary, try to rob me of those very herbs that sustain me ¾ as the price to be paid for the few alphabet symbols you give me.
126. But the fact is, even if I abandon my local dialect and adopt the Indian national language (Hindi) as my medium of literacy and education, I know I shall still not be able to keep your company. You have deserted not only the local dialects, but also the national language, in your insecure pursuit of English.
129. I know that ultimately you will desert me and join the English- speaking crowd. You will always try to maintain a distance between us.
130. So, where is the common ground to come together? We are very different people, trying to pursue very different lifestyles and values. So go back to the cool shades from where you came, and leave me to bear the heat of the scorching sun.
CHAPTER 6: MACAULAY NEVER INTRODUCED SCHOOLS WITH THE INTENTION OF UNIVERSALIZING THEM
131. The underlying principles of your Western education are based on Darwin’s theory that one has to struggle for his existence. He has to fight against everyone else and put them down for his own victory and survival.
132. This crude cult of jealousy and enmity among all fellow beings is rooted in these present-day schools. Today, this cult of jealousy, cut-throat competition and rivalry is more acute in the functioning of our schools than it was in the older days.
133. Schools are concerned only with the winners in their competition. They are not at all worried about those who have been defeated, and then discarded.
140. Why does the school not accept responsibility for the student who has failed in the examination, or who has not been selected for a job interview?
142. In fact, today’s school is just a place for organizing a lottery. It engages in a form of gambling, in which the poor common people are destined to lose.
144. Therefore, the choir song praising the school is a deception, a form of false propaganda. And the illiterate person who keeps himself away from schools is perfectly justified in doing so.
145. In fact, today’s schools are more vicious and polluted than when Macaulay introduced this school system, as an essential and vital strategy for British rule.
146. In fact, even Macaulay did not envisage that the school system he introduced would be suitable for universalizing education in India. But you, proving yourself to be worse than that British imperialist, are promoting that very education in the democratic sovereign nation of India today.
152. Thank god the rural people of India possess the clarity and discrimination necessary to have correctly judged the value and utility of the present day school.
CHAPTER 7: THE CULTURE OF BOSSISM IS SITUATED IN AND PROPOGATED BY SCHOOLS
153. The schools create an atmosphere in which the students learn to dream about their future lives of controlling others. Thus, the school gives the impression that bossism and power to rule others is the ultimate aim of human life.
164. The true aim of education is to turn the human being towards the Divine or towards the search for truth. But today, education aims to turn the educated toward authoritarianism.
165. Thus, the schools of today have changed the concept of human life. They have wiped out the real aims and values of life and established false and meaningless ones.
167. And that is why the mind of the human being is polluted. In addition, in the name of Development, the physical environment has also been polluted.
168. The basic aim of life is to grow from darkness to light, from untruth to truth, and from mortality to immortality. But due to the influence of the present schools, these basic aims and values of human life are vanishing.
170. That is why schooled people have no limits in their consumerism and are constantly vying for supremacy. Nature is being destroyed. This has lead to a lot of discontent and suffering in modern society.
173. Therefore, the first role of education today should be to save humanity from the wrong paths of life, paths that the school has encouraged. Secondly, education should aim at turning the human ambition towards the inner spiritual world.
175. O’ Literacy Preacher, tell your school authorities that human beings do not have to compete against each other; rather each human being should struggle against himself and improve his own weaknesses.
178. Therefore, My Brother, you should stop interfering in my life. First take care of fully understanding and improving your own self.
CHAPTER 8: RESPECT PEOPLES’ RIGHT TO DECIDE FOR THEMSELVES WHETHER SCHOOL EDUCATION IS BENEFICIAL TO THEM OR NOT
179. Learning is implicit in the flow of life. It cannot be fully captured in the prison of schools.
180. Agriculture depends entirely on the rainwater provided by nature and only a little on the irrigation structures provided by the government.
182. Similarly, no school can provide the amount of learning that a human being engages in the process of his own life, outside of school.
183. Schools are very recent structures; they came into existence only the day before yesterday. Human beings, on the other hand, have been learning ever since their existence on earth began.
185. So, if one opens a school, you should open it in the spirit of opening a "drive-through water shed," providing free drinking water to thirsty travelers in the summer heat. Here you provide free drinking water only to those travelers who voluntarily choose, out of their own need, to approach you for drinking water. But while serving water, you should abstain from preaching about the utility of water and your great service to humanity.
186. If your water-serving station will provide good and clean drinking water to the travelers, they will use your services voluntarily. But, if the water you provide is not pure and cold to quench the thirst of the summer traveler, nobody will come to you.
188. Saint-poet Tulsidas2 wrote that even birds and animals understand what is good or bad for them. So why do you think that a citizen of India, who has the right to exercise his vote during elections, does not understand the value of your literacy and school education?
189. Even illiterate people are living human beings who can decide for themselves whether to become literate or to join a school. You must respect the right of the illiterates to make their own decisions.
191. Do not interfere in other peoples’ lives in such an aggressive manner. Do not suffer from the false pride that you are the ultimate saviour of downtrodden people like me.
197. People like me, who are always self-disciplined and contributing their share of work to the world, cannot be deemed ‘uneducated.’ How and when did you earn the right to call me uneducated?
199. You are well aware that schools were established as tools for foreign rule in India. You are also aware that the pattern of these imperialistic schools has not changed since then.
201. Although that imperialistic foreign rule has been uprooted, the schools of today are still wedded to the same conceptual framework of control and governance.
202. "How will my child get out of working and toiling in labor intensive employment? How can he enter into the comfortable class of nonproducing and exploiting elites?" These are the main educational concerns of parents, who have been pushed to send their children to these schools designed by the British.
205. The schools are encouraging the exploited classes to convert themselves into greedy exploiters. The hidden agenda of the schools and its preachers is to curb the possibility of a revolt against the exploitative system.
213. O’ Preacher of School Education! Do not try to misguide me about the utility of your school education, as I have already suffered because of it. My children, after going to your school, neither got any ‘desk and chair’ jobs, nor are they able to work with me in the fields.
CHAPTER 9: EDUCATION ONCE RULED THE STATE, BUT NOW IS SUBMISSIVE TO IT
214. The most vital difference between the old "Gurukuls" (teaching-learning homes) and schooling today is that the former were guided by the gurus (the teacher sage or hermit), whereas the latter is totally controlled by the government.
215. Because the entire educational system is fully dependent on government funds, the so-called masters have been reduced to mere slaves of the government. Whereas in olden times, government leaders were deferential towards gurus, that position has now been reversed.
216. Today, when even the students do not accept teachers’ authority, how can we expect the government to respect them? Teachers’ relationships with the public are diminishing, as they are continually transferred from place to place.
218. In those countries in which the teacher has an autonomous role, the government machinery is not able to spread its influence in an unlimited and unfocused manner. If teachers were able to stimulate critical thinking among the people, it would reduce their dependence on the state apparatus.
222. Do not confuse the spread of school education with the spread of real learning. It is nothing but a means of spreading the network of government machinery and disempowering community life in the Indian society, as people lose all initiative to support and manage themselves.
232. In the ancient educational system, the hermitage of the guru had a loving family-like atmosphere for all its disciples. In that atmosphere, the weaker students received the same attention, affection and importance as the brighter students.
233. Take the example of Lord Krishna, who came from an affluent family, and his friend Sudama, who belonged to a very poor family. It was much more than mere classroom interactions that allowed for such a deep friendship to develop between them. Rather, it emerged from valuable collaborative exercises, such as collecting wood-fuel for the hermitage, encouraged by their Guru Sandeepani.
234. One day, when they went to collect wood in the deep forest, Krishna became hungry. They stopped in Sudama’s little hut, where he embarrassingly offered Krishna a few uncooked grains of rice, which was the only food available. When Krishna graciously accepted it, a new relationship, grounded in mutual respect and understanding, emerged between the two of them.
235. Only real learning can bind the poor and the rich in friendship. It can remove the gulf that exists between them by uniting them.
236. In the hermitage education, the natural atmosphere of the home was maintained, and nothing irrelevant to their lives was imposed on the pupils in the educational syllabus.
238. Education in the gurukuls was not restricted only to subjects connected with worldly affairs; rather, it extended more into the realms of inner human life.
239. That was why students educated in gurukuls never treated their fellow students as potential rivals. Instead, they indulged themselves in more meaningful processes for self-realization and self-improvement.
241. A student that lived in a gurukul ¾ even if he was a weaver (like the great poet-saint Kabir) or a shoemaker (like the great poet-saint Reydaasa) ¾ received more recognition and respect from the public than kings did.
CHAPTER 10: BY FAILING TO RECOGNIZE WORK AS A MEANS OF EDUCATION, SCHOOLS ARE DERAILING DEMOCRACY IN INDIA
247. Ever since human beings started living on this planet, they have been continuously learning through their daily work and productive activities.
252. It is through work that human beings begin to understand nature and the human mind.
255. Work stimulates one’s curiosity, critical thinking and awareness. It is through work that human beings realize the real problems of life and discover their own ways of solving them.
259. No child can become curious to learn, eager to listen and ready to receive knowledge without work, which stimulates these processes.
269. Work is at the roots of the tree of education, but schools have removed these roots from education.
CHAPTER 11: THE ANCIENT FAMILY STRUCTURE AS A BIRTHPLACE FOR LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT
272. The ancient family in India was much more than a den for breeding children. It was a learning center, where work and growth simultaneously and continuously took place.
274. Just as a tree sucks its nourishment from the soil, a child imbibes education by participating in the routine activities of family life.
277. Education is not just a preparation for future life; but rather, the purpose of life is about exploring different ways of learning and living.
282. The parents have the first right to make decisions regarding the education of their offspring; thus, they must assume their natural role as teachers. External schoolteachers should serve only as a complement to the parents.
293. But mark the change! Education, which used to be a free, joyous and spontaneous process in family life, has now become a commodity to be bought and sold in the open markets. It is available in different shades and patterns to suit the financial capacities of the purchaser.
CHAPTER 12: PLEASE STOP BEATING YOUR DRUMS NOW
308. I once had a dream in which I saw and spoke with Mother India. I shared with her my feeling that India is now overpopulated. But she did not agree. She said that if this wrong kind of school education is stopped, overpopulation would no longer be a burden.
312. She said the productive population of non-schooled illiterates is no burden on her. Ten uneducated and illiterate persons who are engaged in production are less of a burden than a single unproductive and over-consuming schooled person.
329. She said that the problems of today do not arise because of the natural learning environment that she created, but they arise due to the lack of any change in your schooling system.
331. O’ friend, I am too tired to converse with you any more. It is already too late in the night. So please allow me to leave and rest.
333. Listen to my very honest suggestion: please do not beat your drums of literacy and schooling. It will only backfire, and you will be subjected to listening to more harsh and painful realities about your school system and literacy campaigns.
1 The underlying, deeper meaning of this verse is that a human being, by his very nature, has been striving to realize his perfection ever since he appeared on this earth even when there where no schools, no teachers and no books to guide or educate him.
2The author of The Ramayana in Hindu mythology.