A trait of mine that many of my friends have been amused with is my zeal for planning. I plan ahead for all things, well ahead. My bags and suitcases would be all packed up and ready a good two weeks before a vacation began. So keeping with my love for planning, I had started planning for Sid’s education when his brain was just beginning to form inside my womb. I had looked up all the information about good schools near my locality, spent a few sleepless nights over which board should I put him in, and debated fiercely with my parents about the right age for him to start going to school. There was a little disappointment in store for me since there were only limited options for school around where I live, and I am reluctant to let him spend most of his time traveling to a far off school. The board was an easier choice to make. Both my husband and myself are CBSE products, so needless to say we want Sid to go to CBSE, reasoning that, if in future we decide to move back to our hometown, it would be easier for him to fit into a new school there, without having to change the board.
When I eagerly took my research to my husband, expecting a pat on the back and a praise for my meticulousness, he did not seem to respond too enthusiastically. The creature from Venus that I am, I picked up an argument with him, blaming him for not being interested in his son’s education. And that was when he dropped the bomb.
“If I had my way, I would never send him to school,” he said.
What! I was flabbergasted. This was something unheard of. Gathering my composure I asked him to explain. And explain he did, emphasizing the need to give the kiddo a free environment, in which the mind will develop. A school, he said, will only suppress his real talents, instead of bringing them out. He would be bogged down by the tests and assignments and projects and homework, with no time for his individual creativity to bloom. He wanted the son to enjoy his childhood to the fullest and learn by experience, not by rote.
Now I do recognize the fact that schools nowadays are quite stressful for children. I had never attended a tuition throughout my schooling, except during tenth standard, but nowadays even first standard kids are being sent to tuition. Some schools in fact insist that the children be sent to tuition. And the whole drill of ‘rutta-maro’ education was nothing but a mere waste of time, I knew. But still, how could he not go to school. One needed those grades, marks, and certificates to progress in their life.
The argument did not end that night. Though my husband agreed that kiddo will go to a playschool after turning 2 and later to a CBSE school, the opinion of not sending him to school did keep popping up now and then. I had reconciled myself to the radical ideas that my man sometimes got, but was thankful that he realized that it is not always practical to be radical.
A few months ago my husband had sent me a TED.com talk by Sugata Mitra. The video was an eye-opener, yes. In it Sugata Mitra, a pioneering educationist, talked about how if children are just given the right tools, they have the ability to learn from the world by themselves, just as efficiently as the children who learn from schools. It was all well, yes. But still, the concept of no school didn’t augur so well with me.
Then a couple of days ago, I read an article in a newspaper. It was about a concept called ‘Unschooling’. There are, I discovered, parents as radical and forward thinking as my dear hubby, who have dared to go against the conventional and pulled their children out of schools, or not sent them to schools at all. They claim that the children do just as well in life as those children who go through the 12-year drill of schooling. The ‘Unschoolers’ live their life as a perpetual holiday, and learn by the way of having fun. The article carried with it photographs of unschooling families. They were all just like us, not too rich to be able to spoil their children with wealth, and not too poor that they could not afford an education. Still, the children remained at home, and still, they remained happy and intelligent.
Now I was hooked alright. I still do not know what I want for Sid in life, but I know what I don’t want. I don’t want him to go through education as though it were a torture. I don’t want him to ‘ratta-marofy’ things he does not understand. I don’t want him to grow into some dummy engineer who has the letters behind his name alright, but does not know to tighten a single screw. I knew sending him to school came with the risk of all these things coming true. In this context, the idea of being able to give him a rich and meaningful childhood, without the stress and strain of schooling seemed tempting. Still, having been brought up through the conventional way of schooling, the concept of unschooling takes time to sink in. However, one thing I am very clear about is – I will not thrust my ideas of education or future on my son, not try to live my dreams through him.
Image Courtesy: Sybill Jecker, California (http://www.sybilljecker.com/blog/2008/11/education-in-india.html)
After reading that article, for the first time I discussed the subject seriously with my husband. What would be the pros and cons? How would his future life get affected due to such a decision? What if he grew up and resented the fact that he was not sent to school, and cited that as a reason for failure in life? Neither of us are knowledgeable or experienced in these matters, so we have decided for now to gather as much information as possible, and talk to a few people involved in education to know their views.
Despite all this information gathering that we have now embarked on, my husband and me agree on one thing. We will send Sid to school like other kids, and see how he takes it. If he enjoys, if he thrives in that environment, we will keep at it. But if he doesn’t, if he feels the pressure, and if the stress threatens to strangle his childhood, then we will for sure give unschooling a try. And when we do that, with all the information we are feeding ourselves now, we know we will be making an informed and sensible decision.
This was originally published in Parentous in Mar, 2013.