VIMUKT SHIKSHA

Resisting Schooling

June, 2000 – Issue 8

Inside this Issue

Editor's Note

Notions of Resistance

An Interview with John Holt

Revisiting Deschooling

Growing with Qudrat

Spiritual Learning

'Savages' of North America

Music as Cultural Production

Resisting the Classroom

Teaching as a Subversive Activity

Nai Talim

Give Up Diplomas and Certificates

Learning as Experiencing

Self-Learning Program

Homeschooling Movement

Reclaiming our Learning Instincts

A Tribute to 'Drop-outs'

Challenging Compulsory Schooling

Closer to Home

Further Resources

 

EDITOR'S NOTE

What does resistance to schooling mean? Why is it necessary to resist schooling today? How are different people resisting schooling?

Many of us around India are concerned about how much damage schooling is doing to our children, the burden and stress it is putting on them, and the need for radical change in the current pattern of education. Yet, very few of us have the courage or the conviction to do something about it. Ignoring our common sense, we accept the physical, psychological and spiritual tortures inflicted daily on our children — rationalizing this for the ‘good of the Nation’ or for their ‘future career’. There are also, of course, parents’ own selfish motives of not having enough time nor inclination to take care of their children to which school provides the ideal babysitting solution. Many parents in India who understand the damage being done by schooling still do nothing — their silence continues to cement our collective self-paralysis. Some (who can afford it) send their children to private ‘alternative schools’, where the daily deprivation is better concealed and the institutional tortures imposed by mainstream schooling are delayed. These ‘alternatives’ are problematic because they perpetuate the illusion that all schools can ultimately be reformed. Their insular focus on micro innovative pedagogies prevents us from bringing out schooling’s insidious linkages to larger Systemic agendas and injustices. The relentless assault of the ‘Schooling for All’ Propaganda (which promises miraculous changes in India once everyone is enrolled and made ‘letterate’) carried out by international agencies and Government, and their NGO contractors creates a hostile and debilitating moral pressure which discourages any open debate on the meaning of education. This discourse is particularly harmful because it prevents us from critically/creatively discussing the crises that are emerging because of the ‘schooled mind-set’.

Those people who claim to be interested today in challenging global exploitation and homogenization, in exploring new alternatives to Western Development, Science and Progress, or in really empowering local communities must be willing to seriously think about processes of resisting schooling. Resistance is necessary to create more spaces for new reflections and conceptualizations on who we are and who we want to become. It is also critical to processes of revaluing and regenerating informal community learning spaces. Resistance is important to understand because it serves to open up new personal and collective sources of power/motivation/creative action outside the control of the State/Market. It stimulates the formation of new collaborative and mutually nurturing relationships.

This issue of Vimukt Shiksha is dedicated to celebrating the courage and wisdom of those individuals, families and communities who are trying to resist being schooled/conditioned/ institutionalized/dehumanized and, in the process, are trying to reclaim control of their own learning/lives. They express their resistance in a variety of ways: ranging from disobeying the orders of school authorities, to rejecting important schooling symbols (i.e. examinations and degrees), to prioritizing other family/community activities, to creating their own self-learning activities. The System has tended to label the ‘most successful’ of these resistors under the victimizing category of ‘ignorant drop-outs’. However, it is not that these so-called drop-outs do not understand what schooling is all about. In fact, they understand all too well not only how irrelevant the entire exercise is but also how it violently tries to mold them into the dehumanizing ‘discipline’ of an industrial-consumer society.

Before reading this issue, some people will accuse us of trying to keep down the ‘poor’ by denying them access to the tasty fruits of schooling. Or they will try to silence critical discourse by arguing that if we, the Editors, had not gone to school, how could we be so ‘empowered’ to write all this. On the contrary, we are writing this in spite of our schooling, and because we believe that people can better develop their unique full individual and collective potentials without interference by schooling. Our intention here is to create new spaces for questioning the sacred monopoly of schooling and exposing certain illusions of the System i.e., the benefits currently realized by a few will ultimately ‘trickle-down’ to the masses, and only the ‘school-educated experts’ should have the power to make decisions. We also wish to challenge obnoxious phrases such as: ‘first-generation learners’, ‘joyful learning’, ‘minimum levels of learning’ and ‘compulsory education’, which trivialize the diversity and complexity of the human learning process. Lastly, we wish to highlight that there are other inspiring voices and experiences out there and, consequently, that other meaningful options for living and being still exist. We invite you to join us in the process of pursuing these.

 

NOTIONS OF RESISTANCE

Vivek Bhandari

The term ‘resistance’ has been given different meanings by different scholars. To a large extent, these have hinged on the ways in which forms of dominance and coercion have been identified and contested by different groups. According to Webster’s College Dictionary, ‘resistance’ literally means "the power or capacity to fight against or oppose." In the following, I will describe how ‘resistance’ can be understood in ways more pertinent to the challenges facing the contemporary world. For those engaged in challenging the mainstream education system, conceptualizing resistance in new ways can facilitate deeper understandings of the larger systems of oppression to which schooling is linked. It can also help to identify various allies who oppose schooling and other systems of dehumanization and exploitation. Most importantly, it can open up theoretical possibilities and practical strategies for engaging in constructive new action.

Historically, one of the most powerful forms of resistance was anti-colonialism. Here, resistance refers to the political struggle of colonized peoples against both the practices and ideologies of colonialism. In its most simplistic sense, anti-colonialism emphasizes the need to reject colonial rule, and to replace it with national regimes. But in the second half of the 20th century, the writings of C.L.R James, Amilcar Cabral, and Frantz Fanon for instance, started targeting an English-educated intelligentsia for supporting colonial rule, and celebrated the role of peasant/proletarian revolutionaries. A more nuanced variation of this argument is that although the English-educated elite had successfully challenged colonial authority by leading national movements, they had failed to resist the domination of ‘colonial forms of knowledge’. Post-colonial critics argue that colonialism did not really end with the departure of the British from India in 1947, because the coercive institutions of foreign rule remain in place — now under the control of a western-educated Indian middle-class.

The concept of hegemony is particularly useful for understanding what has happened (and is happening) in India. ‘Hegemony’ represents a framework of internalized manipulation or indoctrination that is used to legitimize domination. It explains how an imperial power can control colonized people who outnumber them: if an oppressor can make the oppressed desire ‘the greater good’ — social order, progress, and economic advancement (as defined by the imperial power) — then the oppressed will consent to their oppression. In India, ‘disciplining’ the masses and ‘modernizing’ their knowledge so that they agreed with the ‘greater good’ was the goal of the British government’s Charter Act of 1813. The educational institutions that emerged from this imperial policy have effectively served to shape India’s conceptions of its own Progress and Development in the intellectual image of the West. Contemporary India still lives with this legacy, as the Indian Nation State still does not resist the colonial foundations of modern education.

The goals of ‘resistance’ for subaltern groups (peasants, workers and women), however, were not just against colonialism, but against more complex forms of dominance, based in elitism. Their ‘struggle’ is to regain freedom from those institutions and frameworks of knowledge that lie at the root of oppression for all subordinate groups.

How do people resist? Early works on resistance had defined four criteria for ‘genuine resistance’: 1) it must be collective and organized, not private and spontaneous; 2) it must be principled and selfless, rather than opportunistic and selfish; 3) it must have revolutionary consequences; and 4) it must negate, not accept, the basis of domination.

However, recent work demonstrates that these requirements are too rigid and, on occasion, a-historical. James Scott distinguishes between forms of public declared resistance (petitions, demonstrations, strikes ) vs. forms of disguised, low-profile undeclared resistance. He describes that in the constant struggle between the peasantry and those who take labor, food, taxes, rents, and interest from them, ‘everyday forms of peasant resistance’ take place through "ordinary weapons of relatively powerless groups: foot dragging, dissimulation, false compliance, pilfering, feigned ignorance, slander, arson, sabotage, and so forth."1 For such oppressed groups, their conformity is calculated, not a blind acceptance of the status quo. By locating resistance in everyday material practices that are culture-specific, Scott opens up new spaces for human agency and action.

Scott also makes a very important point on the limits of hegemonic power, and argues that elite intellectual values do not necessarily penetrate into the lower classes. Because hegemonic ideas are always the subject of conflict and are continually being reconstructed, "relations of domination are, at the same time, relations of resistance." The indignities experienced by the peasantry "are the seed bed of the anger, indignation, frustration that nurture the hidden transcript (of resistance)."2 These also give birth to other forms of resistance which involve the cultural production of new artifacts such as art, music, and dance.

Another form of resistance involves the concept of ‘counter-discourse’.3 This describes the complex ways in which challenges to the specific viewpoints that create, stabilize, and perpetuate dominant structures of power might be mounted from the periphery. Counter-discursive practices are particularly effective against hegemonic institutions, like education systems, which use certain texts to legitimize the dominance of larger political, legal, economic, social and literary structures. For example, English literature used texts that upheld the virtues of the Englishman while, at the same time, erased the histories of racial oppression and material exploitation that came with British rule (this curriculum remained unchanged in Indian universities until very recently). A counter-discursive critique would attack not just the textbooks in the curriculum, but also the assumptions that underlie the larger institutional apparatus. It would challenge the very idea of organizing knowledge in textbooks, and what it means to get a modern education — even if this means using textbooks as tools of the critique!

Thus, resistance does and must operate on a number of levels. Along with active mobilization and social organization, learning activists must recognize and engage with hidden spaces and processes (historically-and culturally-specific) of resistance. They must also engage in counter-discursive practices that challenge the foundations of hegemonic or ‘colonial forms of knowledge’. All of these diverse practices of resistance serve to create spaces to facilitate transformation of structures and society by hitherto disempowered groups.

1. J. Scott, Weapons of the Weak, Yale, 1985.

2. J. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts, Yale, 1990.

3. R. Terdiman, Discourse/Counter-Discourse, Cornell, 1985.

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH JOHN HOLT

John Holt was a leading spokesperson for ‘Growing Without Schooling’. Some of his earlier books on school reform have been translated into Hindi; but his later, more radical, thinking has not been discussed much in India. In the following excerpts, adapted from Teach Your Own, (New York: Dell, 1981) by Robert Gilman, Holt describes why he gave up on trying to reform schools and started advocating that families liberate their children from schooling:

"It began in the late 1950s. I was then teaching ten-year-olds in a prestigious school. I was also spending a lot of time with the babies and very young children of my sisters, and of other friends. I was struck by the difference between the 10 year-olds and the 1 and 2 year-olds. The children in the classroom, despite their wealthy backgrounds were with few exceptions frightened, timid, evasive, and self-protecting. The infants at home were bold adventurers.

It soon became clear to me that children are by nature and from birth very curious about the world around them, and very energetic, resourceful, and competent in exploring it, finding out about it, and mastering it. In short, much more eager to learn, and much better at learning, than most adults. Babies are not blobs, but true scientists. Why not then make schools into places in which children would be allowed, encouraged, and (if and when they asked) helped to explore and make sense of the world around them (in time and space) in ways that most interested them?

I said this in my first two books, How Children Fail (1964) and How Children Learn (1966). Many people, among them educators, and parents, seemed to be very interested in and enthusiastic about the idea of making schools into places in which children would be independent and self-directed learners. It seemed to me that within a few years such changes might take place in majority of schools.

Yet from many experiences during this time I began to see, in the early 1970s, slowly and reluctantly, but ever more surely, that the movement for school reform was mostly a fad and an illusion. Very few people, inside the schools or out, were willing to support or even tolerate giving more freedom, choice, and self-direction to children. Of the very few who were, most were doing so not because they believed that children could be trusted to find out about the world, but because they thought that giving children some of the appearances of freedom (allowing them to wear different clothes, run around, shout, write on the wall) was a clever way of getting them to do what the school had wanted all along — to learn those school subjects, get into a good college, etc. Freedom was not a serious way of living and working, but only a trick, a ‘motivational device’. When it did not quickly bring the results they wanted, the educators gave it up without a thought and without regret.

At the same time, I was seeing more and more evidence that most adults actively distrusted and disliked most children, even their own. They also felt that the most important thing children had to learn was how to work mechanically, that is, when their time comes, to be able, and willing, to hold down full-time painful jobs of their own. The best way to get them ready to do this is to make school as much like a painful job as possible. As long as such parents are in the majority (and they exist in every social class) the schools, even if they wanted to, will not be able to move very far in the directions I and many others have for years been urging them to go.

As the question ‘Can schools be reformed?’ kept turning up ‘NO’ for an answer, I found myself asking much deeper questions: "Were schools, however organized, however run, necessary at all? Were they the best place for learning? Were they even a good place?" Except for people learning a few specialized skills, I began to doubt that they were. Most of what I knew, I had not learned in school, or in any other such school-like ‘learning environments’ such as conferences or seminars. I suspected this was true of most people."

Based on these experiences, Holt began to make more contacts with families whose children were learning naturally outside of school. Seeing their need for mutual support and continuous interaction, Holt began publishing (in 1977) a small bimonthly magazine, Growing Without Schooling (2380 Mass Ave., Suite 104, Cambridge, MA 021 40, USA). The magazine continues to share writings by parents and children, interviews, book reviews, and in-depth discussions about how people learn, and how families can ‘unschool’ their children by using real-life, community resources.

Source: <www.holtgws.com>

 

DESCHOOLING REVISITED

Thirty years ago, Ivan Illich, in Deschooling Society (Marion Boyars: London, 1970), argued for the ‘disestablishment of schools’. However, his ideas have been widely misunderstood. Deschooling was not about (naiively) closing down schools but was a metaphor for de-institutionalizing our lives. Illich tried to warn us about the cataclysmic man-made miseries that are emerging as byproducts of industrialized society and dominant notions of Development and Progress. Driving this process are ‘manipulative social institutions’ such as hospitals, schools, etc. They propagate the myth that through technological innovations and economic production, every man’s insatiable desires can be met. Illich called these institutions ‘false public utilities’ because they aggravate the very problems (physical pollution, social polarisation and psychological impotence) that they claim to do away with, by creating obsolescence and manufacturing new ‘needs’ before satisfaction can ever be reached. What makes these institutions dangerous is that they seek to replace our autonomous modes of living (based on self-reliance and interdependence) with heteronomous modes (that rob us of our confidence ‘to do’ without professional care or external certification). As a result, "Rich and poor alike...view doctoring oneself as irresponsible, learning on one’s own as unreliable, and community organization...as a form of aggression or subversion."

Illich focused on exploding the myth of schooling because, "The stakes of society are much higher if a significant minority loses its faith in schooling... (this) would endanger the survival...of the economic order built on the co-production of goods and demands, (and)...the political order built on the nation-state into which the students are delivered by the school." Schooling is particularly insidious because it claims to promote independent, critical judgement while relying upon a predetermined, pre-packaged process.

As lllich observes, homo educandus (‘modern-educated’ man) is required for homo oeconomicus (‘techno-economic’ man) since school and the ‘schooled-consumer’ are commodities, necessary to sustain a consumeristic society.

The process of collectively liberating ourselves thus calls for us to both challenge the concept of and the structures that manufacture homo educandus and, to regenerate webs of intrinsically-motivated learners.

 

 

GROWING WITH QUDRAT

Sumi and Chandresh

"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-Deepti have 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.

 

SPIRITUAL LEARNING

Wasif Rizvi

A ‘globalization’ of Western institutions, values, and priorities preceded the latest bloodthirsty drive for global exploitation (today fashionably masked under catch phrases like ‘e-commerce’ or the ‘dot.com’ revolution). This groundwork of manufacturing widespread public somnambulism (sleepwalking) and the acceptance of Western domination as a natural testament to the white race’s inherent superiority, was performed impeccably by the most globalized of all institutions, the Modern School. The Global Development Conglomerate backed by the might of the IMF and World Bank has marketed the Modern School to the masses of the world exactly along the lines of a slick consumer product. Images of pathetic ‘savages’ (comprising over 3/4th of the world) being rescued by the white saviors who descend in hordes of missionaries, curriculum specialists or community development experts, are plastered all over the world. The most revered products of this campaign are elite schools which train local black/brown power managers to hammer their unruly brethren into submission. In both cases, with the poor and the rich, schooling effectively obliterates independent thought, self-learning, or any other level of meaningful societal creativity.

Fortunately though, throughout this diabolical history of Western ascendancy, there have been initiatives aimed at a) challenging the intellectual, spiritual and physical genocide; and b) promoting forms of learning which keep the forces of wisdom and humanity alive. These movements have often been assaulted and corrupted, but at their core lies a deep spirit of dissent and critical consciousness. If properly intellectualized, they can provide alternatives to communities overwhelmed by the relentless assault of Western Development and Globalization.

The dysfunctionality of Modern Schooling stems from a complete absence of spiritual thought and discourse in its design. Schools pride themselves in being ‘objective’, ‘rational’, and ‘neutral’ — in other words, anti-spiritual and amoral. Only a select version of bland religious history finds its way into the curriculum. These interpretations either vilify or glorify various episodes vis--vis the preferred propaganda of State elites.

School also de-legitimizes other genuine spaces of spiritual learning. This attack comes from many corners but primarily led by the rabid self-proclaimed ‘liberals’ who equate the rejection of European Christianity during the Enlightenment as a valid reason for the rest of the world to give up their faith and spiritual quests. According to them, because Roman Catholicism failed as a form of theology, this sweeping generalization must be true for every other faith in the world. All other forms of spiritual learning, particularly those associated with Islam, are demonized to no end. Ironically, where these stereotypes are closest to being true, are those movements that have been co-opted or even heavily supported by the West. The most flagrant example of this is the Taliban, which is a murderous mercenary group well-funded by none other than the CIA.

Despite these massive misrepresentations, there are a growing number of families who are opting out of formal schooling and choosing some form of spiritual learning for their children. This demand is not ‘planned’ by the Development Industry. Rather, it is an outcome of a deep human need to actualize their individual and collective spiritual instincts. It also emerges from the disastrous experiment of modernity which has left the world in a physically, spiritually, and intellectually ravaged condition. Paradoxically, the bloodiest hundred years of human history is still being proudly promoted as the Century of Western Scientific Achievement. However, many communities are questioning this monumental deception and seeking new liberatory frameworks.

The spiritual learning demands in Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt, and Malaysia have grown exponentially in recent years. I have intentionally highlighted these countries, since there has been a huge Western investment currently taking place to ‘school’ (read: indoctrinate) the civil societies of these countries. A similar fifty-year effort, backed by many bloody CIA excesses, took place to expand ‘Western oil interests’ in Iran. However, a small learning space in the obscure religious town of Qum created a social resistance of monumental proportions against the brutal dictatorial control and Westernization of a proud spiritual civilization. No matter how many labels of defamation the Western Media might want to stick on to the Iranian Revolution, it is the only spiritually-inspired movement to overthrow the foreign-imposed exploitative power structures in contemporary times. Not only did this Revolution spark a political transformation, its strongest emphasis was to reform and conscientize traditional religious and spiritual spaces. The works of Ayatullah Mashadi (Philosophy of Liberation) and Dr. Ali Shariati (The Challenge of Modernity) were completely focused on starting a societal reflection on dogmatic practices. These two scholars inspired the revolutionary thinking in Iran. Their biggest opponents were the State-[Shah]-funded mullahs. Both of them were assassinated by the Shah’s Secret Police, and for sometime conservative mullahs grabbed (and were grabbed by) State power in Iran. This situation is now being reversed with the influence of the true revolutionaries coming back into the mainstream. The West’s nervousness towards spiritual learning spaces stems from this ‘debacle’. They fear losing their stranglehold on the lifeline of the oppressed world.

In the Islamic world, these organic revolutionizing movements, which opt for non-school oriented learning, have been on a rise for the last 15 years. Most of these movements have no donor agencies to grant them cushy core funding. Nor are there any career incentives attached to any of them. Most of them are headed by inspired youth who are taking their own initiatives to intellectualize their spiritual thoughts.

These movements face many serious threats. The biggest is that of miscontextualization and co-optation. There is an intricate and insidious operation, which links these movements to the debauched Sheikdoms of the Gulf, where American-propped kings invest millions to mislead spiritual awakenings. In India, co-optation occurs when various fundamentalists hijack emerging traditional cultural and spiritual regeneration efforts. More subtle attempts of co-optation involve trying to insert seemingly innocuous Development Projects into local spiritual learning spaces i.e., madrassahs or raatijagas.

Despite the cynics and secular modernizers, these grassroots regenerative mutinies are real and potent. What is required to sustain them is the restoration of confidence of common peoples in their own knowledge systems and indigenous thoughts. This is a two-pronged effort. First, we must keep unveiling the monstrous faces of modernity and those systems and processes, which support the annihilation of 90% of humanity in the name of ‘Progress’. Second, we must deepen reflective processes, which nurture continuous questioning and engaging in meaningful societal discourses that create just, ecologically-sound and pluralistic systems. Rejection of schooling by a large number of conscientious people is a decisive step towards achieving these noble goals.

 

Excerpts from: "Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America," a pamphlet by Benjamin Franklin (1784)

At the Treaty of Lancaster (Pennsylvania), anno 1744, between the Government of Virginia and the Six Red Indian Nations, the Commissioners from Virginia told the Red Indians that Williamsburg College had a schoIarship fund for educating the Red Indian youth. And that if the Six Nations would send down haIf a dozen of their young lads to that College, the Government would take care that they be well provided for, and instructed in all the Learning of the White People.

The spokesperson for the Red Indians replied: "We know that you highly esteem the kind of Learning taught in those Colleges, and that the Maintenance of our Young Men, while with you, would be very expensive to you. We are convinced, therefore, that you mean to do us good by your proposal; and we thank you heartily.

But you, who are wise, must know that different Nations have different conceptions of things; and you will therefore not take it amiss, if our Ideas of this kind of Education happen not to be the same as yours. We have had some experience of it. Several of our young people were formerly brought up at the Colleges of the Northern Provinces; they were instructed in all your Sciences; but, when they came back to us, they were bad Runners, Ignorant of every means of living in the Woods, unable to bear either Cold or Hunger, knew neither how to build a Cabin, take a Deer, or kill an Enemy, spoke our Language imperfectly, were therefore neither fit for Hunters, Warriors, nor Counselors; they were totally good for nothing.

We are however nonetheless obliged by your kind Offer, though we decline accepting it; and, to show our grateful sense of it, if the Gentlemen of Virginia will send us a Dozen of their Sons, we will take Care of their Education, instruct them in all we know, and make Men of them."

 

RESISTANCE AS CULTURAL PRODUCTION

"I got my diploma from a school called records." — dead prez, ‘they’ schools

In the following excerpt, ethnomusicologist Wayne Marshall <wgmarshall@students.wisc.edu> describes how marginalized groups (such as African-American community in the US) use music as a form of resistance to regenerate and share knowledge and values that provide an important alternative to dominant mainstream culture.

"I would propose that we consider the possibility that music (or other types of expressive culture) could serve as a powerful voice of the ‘subaltern’, and therefore an important site of struggle and resistance...

Many artists have explicitly viewed their music as an alternative education — a challenge to dominant notions of knowledge and truth. A group like dead prez — whose purposely misspelled and un-capitalized name, songs, and album — pushes its revolutionary agenda by using a number of different techniques, from criticism, to preaching, to teaching. Songs on their album, lets get free (Loud Records 1867), such as ‘police state’ and ‘behind enemy lines’ are informed, passionate arguments against what they see as a repressive and racist system. Their song ‘they schools’1, presents a scathing critique of the education system and its shortcomings in empowering the African-American community. dead prez also feel they learned more from their records — the counter-knowledge provided by African-American music, especially hip hop music — than from any school teacher.

dead prez sing of the alienation and deep dissatisfaction they encountered in their experiences with the education system. They make it clear that the problem stems not from a lack of effort or ability on their part, but instead from a fundamental rift between official, institutional knowledge and the counter-knowledge they derive from experience and from informal teachings. Such a sentiment is communicated in lines like: ‘Get your Iessons,/that’s what my moms kept stressing/I tried to pay attention,/but their classes weren’t interesting/They seemed to only glorify Europeans.’ Not only do dead prez find relevant knowledge missing from the curriculum, they argue that people’s ability to communicate effectively with those in their own community is greatly misperceived and devalued by the educational establishment: ‘Your people’s understand you/but to them [the teachers, administration, etc.], you’re a failure.’ Moreover, the group combines their criticism of schooling with their own ideas about effective approaches to learning: ‘Observation and participation — my favorite teachers/ When they beat us/ in the head with them books, it don’t reach us.’

An important component to dead prez’s criticism of the educational system is that they frame the dominant knowledge as false ‘lies’. The chorus of the song argues that such lies are antithetical to the fundamental mission of education: ‘They schools ain’t teaching us what we need to know to survive./ They schools don’t educate, all they teach the people is lies.’ The dominant notions of truth and knowledge do not correspond with many peoples’ social realities, and for this reason such ‘teachings’ and information can only be rejected as false and even as propaganda. Discrediting the current education system by claiming that it teaches lies is an important technique for producing counter-knowledge, and for ultimately re-educating what they see as a mis-educated group of people...

This, of course, is only one of the most explicit, contemporary examples of music as resistance, and specifically against mis-education. Other examples abound — some require a little more interpretation, depending on one’s personal history/social position, to see their educational value. It is my hope that this music as resistance, practised by dead prez and countless other musicians — inside and outside of the African-American musical tradition — will not only continue as a program of education in and of itself, but will also provide educators, of all kinds, with the inspiration and impetus to create learning processes that no longer fail their students."

1. In this case ‘they’ is used as a black vernacular alternative to the possessive pronoun ‘their’. This flaunting of ‘standard’ or ‘correct’ English grammar is another explicit choice made by dead prez and other rappers, who accent their speech with signifiers of their social position. As another politically-minded rapper, Mos Def, says: "Used to speak the King’s English/but caught a rash on my lips."

 

RESISTING IN THE CLASSROOM

In his ethnographic book, Schooling As A Ritual Performance: Towards A Political Economy Of Educational Symbols And Gestures, 1993, Peter McLaren documents various ways in which students in Canadian classrooms express their discontent with schooling:

"The most common instances of resistance were: leaning back on the chairs so that students nearly fell over….; knocking each other on the backs of the knees and other forms of ‘masculine’ jostling; leaning over the desk and talking to other students; lollingly sitting at your desk and looking around the room with a bored expression;… thrusting out chin and scowling at the teacher; being in a restricted space without permission….; obeying a teacher’s command but performing the required task in slow motion…; horsing around or fighting in class; and wearing ‘intimidating’ clothing."

"Engaging in conversations with peers unbeknownst to the teacher, creating marvellously inventive obscenities and general intransigence."

"The laughter of resistance… occurs when the entire class – or a significant number of students within the class – spontaneously turn against the teacher. Usually the students wait patiently for an opening – a ‘slip-up’ on the teacher’s part – and, when the time is right, they begin to howl with laughter."

"Other instances… included: stealing the supply room keys when the teacher was absent; plugging the toilets with paper towels or stolen clothes; and vandalizing the washroom walls and ceiling."

The ritual of schooling is the breeding/preserving ground for hierarchical power and privilege structures. The system is thus organised to manufacture ‘successful adults’ who will maintain the status quo of society. As part of this, schooling confers a superior value to elite culture, while disconnecting children of the ‘disadvantaged’ sections from their wider socio-cultural realities and opportunities.

But most children do not readily acquiesce to this indoctrination of values and behaviour. In some cases, their modes of resistance may be visible and planned via organised structures like student unions, dharnas, etc. However, children of ‘disadvantaged’ sections have little access to these for a as most are controlled by children of the ruling class. They instead engage in acts of resistance which are often covert, unconscious, hidden and spontaneous. These represent the attempts to assert their power (however temporary and small they may be), and to articulate and explore their own identities, perceptions and contradictions. As the schooling system tries to violently mould them, children continually search for spaces in their powerlessness to resist in any way they can – until they finally drop out (discarded as ‘failures’) or conform to the rules and rituals (praised as successes).

Acts of resistance are a means of fighting back against a Teacher and a System that dehumanizes and strips children of their dignity as thinking/feeling human beings. These articulations cannot be dismissed by blaming or silencing the ‘problem’ children. Each act illustrates an aberration in the System e.g., in teaching methodologies, performance criteria, and the elite value base that negates the majority’s socio-cultural realities and emotional needs. In India, we must seek to ‘listen’ more carefully to these critiques by sensitive and creative children and to meaningfully involve them in our struggles to transform schooling.

 

TEACHING AS A SUBVERSIVE ACTIVITY

Radical pedagogists, such as Paulo Freire, Neil Postman, bell hooks, and Henry Giroux, challenge the conventional concepts of a classroom teacher and pedagogy vis--vis schooling and larger political-economic systems. They argue that teachers must fight the rigidity and conformity of schools and create genuine spaces for learners to explore and develop their diverse capacities and talents. Teachers should also use their teaching power to question and subvert oppressive and exploitative institutions, policies and relationships in society. Giroux describes his vision of progressive teachers as those who "are also concerned in their teaching with linking empowerment the ability to think and act critically to the concept of social transformation. That is, teaching for social transformation means educating students to take risks and to struggle within ongoing relations of power in order to be able to alter the ground in which life is lived . Acting as ‘transformative intellectuals’ means helping the students to acquire critical knowledge about the societal structures, such as economy, the state, the workplace, the mass culture, so that such institutions can be open to potential transformation."

However, Postman describes, "The trouble is that most teachers have the idea that they are in some other sort of business. Some believe, for example, that they are in the ‘information dissemination’ business." Others see their only duty as creating clever bureaucrats or preparing consumers to further corporate agendas. Many don’t have a vision of what they are doing — their primary pre-occupation is on their salary. The few who do realize the irrelevance and inherent damage of schooling feel powerless to change the System.

Teachers must start to recognize the power they have within their classrooms. Rather than simply making student memorize the syllabus, they can critically question along with their students "what is being taught and why?"; "who has decided that this should be taught and what legitimacy do they have?"; "how does this relate to local realities?"; and, "what other perspectives exist?" Teachers can also demystify the ‘sacred Truth’ of textbooks, I.Q., classroom discipline, teacher-student dichotomy, competitive examinations and degrees, as essential elements of the learning process. A ‘subversive’ classroom can be identified by the frequency with which students ask meaningful questions, their search for and tolerance of diverse answers, and their challenges to assertions made by other students, teachers or textbooks.

Teachers can also create new spaces of power by inviting others into authentic discussions on education i.e. "what are the problems faced by communities"; "what should be learned by youth today?"; and "how does schooling support global exploitation?". Giroux describes that teachers "will have to open every aspect of formal education to active, popular contestation and to...community members, parents, support staff, youth advocacy groups, and others with vital interest in the schools." Teachers can also involve the students into exploring community issues as well as other spaces of learning in the community. Both above processes require that teachers stop seeing themselves as the ‘great experts’ and communities as ‘illiterate’ or ‘backward’. Postman suggests that as teachers redefine themselves and their roles, "great strides can be made if the words ‘teach’ and ‘teaching’ are simply subtracted from the operational lexicon."

Source: Postman, N & Weingartner, G. Teaching as a Subversive Activity.Delacorte Press, New York, 1969.

Giroux, H.A. Pedagogy and Politics of Hope. Westview Press, 1997.

 

"Everyone talks these days about quality education for all. But quality education for every child, is an absurdity, a contradiction in terms. Most parents, when they say to S-chools, ‘Give my kid a quality education’, they mean, ‘Do something to him that will get him ahead of all the other kids.’ In short, make him a winner. Not, a winner along with all the rest; that won’t do him any good. They mean, make him a winner in a race where most kids lose..."                  

                                                                                                                                - John Holt

 

NAI TALIM AS RESISTANCE

Nai Talim was crafted in 1937 by Gandhiji, with a vision of resistance — both against the British model of schooling and against the larger colonial political-economic structures. Post-Independence, Vinoba Bhave took up the agenda of Nai Talim as a vehicle for dissolving the model of governance in India, like the "worm that devours the wood in which it is born. He also viewed it as a constructive initiative to facilitate ‘village industries, equitable distribution of land, destruction of caste/sectarian barriers and the learning for life." The evolution of this new social order was to be an iterative process, beginning with the dismantling of the existing parasitic systemic frameworks and institutions.

To these ends, Shiksha was to be geared around self-sufficiency (individual and socio-economic), dignity of labour, fearlessness and non-violence. Says Vinoba, "We can live rightly only when we earn our livelihood by bodily labour. If we do not do this, we are a burden for other people to carry on their backs, and our lives cannot be free of violence." This meant that institutions introducing modernized forms of class distinctions (particularly between physical and mental labour) were to be challenged. Simultaneously, social cleavages — on the basis of religion, caste, etc. — were to be bridged. Nai Talim teachers were to be proactive on both of these fronts.

The crux of Nai Talim lay in overcoming distinctions between learning and teaching, and knowledge and work. Vinoba discusses the need to redefine the relationship between teacher and student, "they must each regard the other as a fellow worker..." As opposed to schooling, Nai Talim was to give a secondary place to having individuals exclusively to ‘teach’ and to learning only from ‘textbooks’. Instead, the ‘teacher’ was to be skilled in a kala/hunar (and to derive sustenance from this and not a teaching salary). The student was to live, work and grow with the teacher and his/her family. In this process s/he would learn the kala/hunar — the skill as part of a way of life, code of ethics, web of relationships, etc.

The emphasis on craft has led to several misconceptions. Nai Talim was not about merely giving children some handicraft to learn (as an extra-curricular activity), or learning a skill in exclusion of larger knowledge-sharing and thinking processes (vocationalization). Rather, knowledge and work were to be seen as an organic whole. Vinoba clarifies, "The business of stitching a fragment of knowledge on to a fragment of work is not Nai Talim."

Vinoba suggests that each village gram panchayat develop its own curricular content and children become acquainted with local geography and history. Ignoring this emphasis on contextual learning, a standardised project called ‘Basic Education’ was replicated by the Government throughout India. By binding this generative ‘seed-thought’ within the walls of rote learning, examinations and certification, India has achieved what Vinoba feared — the defining of Nai Talim as a prescribed and stagnant model.

Also, Nai Talim was misinterpreted as only being for the villages/villagers. Vinoba is emphatic that the ends of education cannot be met if "village children (are brought up to) serve the country while town children are brought up to loot their country!" While, the learning processes in towns were to differ from those in villages, the ends were to remain consistent — reinforcing the interdependent and nurturing relationship between towns and villages.

Today, several groups around the country are trying to revive Nai Talim. Unfortunately, their emphasis remains only on the ‘rural poor’, and on vocationalization for income generation. They fail to realize that unless the vision and practice of Nai Talim is liberated from the Western techno-economic paradigm of Development, Democracy, and Progress, their efforts will remain sterile.

Source: Bhave, V. Thoughts on Education. Sarva Seva Sangh Prakashan, Varanasi, 1996.

 

 

GIVE UP DIPLOMAS AND CERTIFICATES

"For about a century mankind has been suffering from a disease which seems to be spreading more and more, and in our days, it has become most acute, it is what we may call

Source: Bulletin of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, Pondicherry, 1960.

 

LEARNING AS EXPERIENCING

Experiential Learning typically involves either outdoor, physical activities, or it engages learners in various work/apprenticeship and service projects. In both cases, the idea is that people learn best through real-world experiences, instead of in the de-contextualized and irrelevant vacuum of a classroom. Experiential Learning not only integrates school and ‘real life’, but it also prepares learners to better understand the rapidly changing world around them.

Service Learning is one form of experiential learning. It connects academic inquiry and self- or group-reflection with practical social value education. It seeks to respond to individual and community needs, by creating opportunities for students, teachers, and parents to learn and work together to build and sustain a caring community. These service experiences require the practical application of knowledge and theories, and they integrate processes of questioning, creating, reflecting, sharing, and evaluating. Together, schools and their students learn more about and with their larger communities.

Unlike voluntary extra-curricular activities, Service Learning is actually integrated into the academic coursework of the school. And unlike ‘mandatory public service’ or practical course placements, the entire process of Service Learning is conceived of and managed by the learners themselves. Also, the activity focuses on a holistic learning process, instead of just a single skill or objective. It requires participants to synthesize various types of knowledge, creativity, concerns, and commitment, in order to grow at a personal level and to do something unique and meaningful for their communities.

Some examples of Service Learning projects include: documenting and preserving native plants, designing neighborhood playgrounds, testing local water quality and then cleaning water, building wheelchair ramps, developing urban community gardens, and starting school recycling programs. Service Learning projects should:

1. Closely integrate academic learning and the service activities. There should be many opportunities to learn new skills and experiment with different roles;

2. Involve youth in conceptualizing, planning and decision-making;

3. Make skilled adult guidance available. This involves preparing all supporting staff with the tools and training necessary to properly facilitate a meaningful service learning experience;

4. Include both preparation before and critical reflection after the activity. Underlying this should be systematic assessments by self, peers, coordinator, teacher;

5. Make an authentic contribution to the community.

Effective service-learning programs have been developed with learners of all ages, from five to eighteen. They have helped students to learn critical thinking and problem solving skills, improve communication skills, build teamwork, foster civic responsibility, acquire vocational and computer skills, and conduct research.

For more information:

The International Partnership for Service- Learning

815 Second Avenue, Suite 3 1 5

New York, NY 10017

Fax (212) 986-5039; e-mail: pslny@aol.com

Source: Guilford’s Summer Institute ‘98, ASLER Standards, National Service Learning Cooperative’s Essential Elements of Service Learning.

 

"Let all the students leave their universities and colleges for a year and plunge into the movement. Bapu had called for the students to come out not merely for a year but for good. And students joining this movement will get a unique and priceless education out of it even if it fails. One does not get knowledge merely out of books, lectures, and examinations... I would like to share my experience with you and tell you that the education that I got during the days of the non-cooperation movement was the most valuable that I ever got, if by education one means the building of character and the development of personality. Whatever I am today is a product of that creative experience."

- Jayaprakash Narayan, Total Revolution, 1974

 

DEVELOPING YOUR OWN SELF-LEARNING PROGRAM

In his book, Free from School, Rahul Alvares describes how he took a year off from school after class X to pursue his interest in learning more about reptiles:

"I started out by working as an assistant to a friend of my parents who ran an aquarium fish store in our town. I did this job for 2 months during which the owner taught me how to make fish tanks, repair air pumps, set up aquariums for people in their homes and offices, medicate sick fish and so on. I then visited the Wynad Wildlife Sanctuary with my father. In addition to spending time with nature (particularly the wild elephant herds), I attended a workshop where I listened to experts discuss the necessity for farmers to switch to organic farming, problems they might face in the initial stages and the dangers of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, etc. All this knowledge made me rethink the science lessons we were given in school where ‘modern’ is always shown as progress and improvement on the old.

Next, I set out for the Pune Snake Park. I stayed 3 weeks there handling non-venomous snakes and Monitor lizards. Then I went to the Earthworm Institute. My daily routine included textbook studies, keeping field notes, and tending the vermiculture pits. At the Centre for Indigenous Knowledge Systems, I learned techniques for raising giant crab spiders which are a non-toxic way of controlling cockroaches, as the spiders feed on the roaches. My tasks included feeding the spiders, checking their moulting, cleaning the containers and removing any dead ones. The best part of my sabbatical was working at Crocodile Bank at Mamallapuram where I spent a full month with poisonous snakes, turtles, crocodiles, iguanas, and monitor lizards.

I gained a lot during my ‘break’. It was more than I would have ever learned if I had gone straight to 11th standard. I learned to travel on my own, sleep anywhere, eat different kinds of food, handle money, reason out my decisions and feel responsible for them. Although most other students may not be as lucky as I was to have such supporting parents or so many contacts, I would definitely recommend a one-year sabbatical after the 10th or 12th for every student. It certainly need not be a program like mine — for example my brother who has taken a break after Standard XII is learning music and cooking. The ‘break’ program also should not be career-oriented. Keeping your mind open and trying out different things is the key to enjoy the sabbatical."

 

"Many self-styled revolutionaries are victims of school. They see even ‘liberation’ as a product of an institutional process. Only liberating oneself from school will dispel such illusions. The discovery that most learning requires no teaching can be neither manipulated nor planned. Each of us is personally responsible for his or her own deschooling, and only we have the power to do it."                                             - Ivan Illich

 

HOMESCHOOLING MOVEMENT

Today, in the United States, more than one million children are being ‘homeschooled’. Broadly defined, homeschooling is when families make conscious decisions to remove their children from (or never enroll them in) the formal institution of school. Instead, they chose to take responsibility for their children’s learning and development. The ‘homeschooling’ movement is actively growing in the U.S. and in many countries around the world, including the U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

Why Homeschool?

In the U.S., there are a wide range of reasons for homeschooling. Some parents want to raise their children with certain religious or moral perspectives that are excluded from schools; others are trying to nurture children who lace particular mental/physical challenges or have special talents. However, the vast majority of homeschooling parents point to the limiting and destructive current school setting, as their reason for not enrolling their children in formal schools. They believe that schools neither respond to their individual child’s strengths, interests, or aspirations, nor do schools encourage them to be creative, independent, responsible members of society. Also, many families realize that what is taught in schools cannot be transferred to the outside world and is, for the most part, useless and irrelevant. Therefore, instead of sending their children to schools, families would rather encourage and support their children in developing themselves and making their own choices about learning and learning environments.

What Do Homeschoolers Do?

The content and processes in every homeschooling situation are unique. Some homeschoolers completely mimic schools, reproducing school-like methods at home. In this subset of the movement, parents typically follow traditional teaching methods e.g., organizing the day into ‘class periods’, using a ‘canned’ curriculum and textbooks, and testing their children on subject matter.

On the other side of the movement is the ‘unschooling’ subset. Unschooling parents do not prescribe that their children read or do multiplication by a certain age. They do not structure their child’s learning in any rigid form. Instead, these families take learning as living, and living as learning. A child is encouraged to explore his/ her interests. Because children are responsible for and authentically engaged in their own learning, they work hard and consistently. And because parents trust children’s natural and diverse curiosity, they do not feel the need to compartmentalize life into ‘subjects’.

While these strands of homeschooling may seem vastly different, what connects them is the fact that parents and children are deciding together what, when, why, how, and from whom they will learn. "No one knows better than me what’s best for my child," is phrase repeated over and over by parents.

Both categories of homeschoolers seek out a variety of resources to create their own unique learning environments. Parents primarily aid their children in these processes, by helping them to uncover materials and reading with them. Children’s learning also often comes from interacting with other places and people: museums, libraries, historical areas, the marketplace, nature settings, voluntary associations, businesses, etc. Many homeschoolers also look to technology, particular the World Wide Web, to find ideas for supporting the children’s learning (for some excellent learning resources, see<www.gomilpitas.com/homeschooling>; <www.unschoohng.com>; <www.homeschoolcentral.com>). Homeschooled children also have plenty of time to play with friends or alone.

Criticisms of Homeschooling

Critics oppose homeschooling on two main grounds. First, they say it distorts the proper socialization processes of young people. They claim that homeschooling prevents children from interacting with their peers, and therefore, children become anti-social and maladjusted members of society. However, research has shown that homeschoolers — who often learn with older and younger siblings, as well as adults and the elderly — benefit immensely from these intergenerational interactions. Avoiding age segregation — that is, not dividing children up into rigid age groups — can actually enable homeschoolers to be more poised, socially mature and emotionally stable than their schooled peers.

Second, critics say that allowing people to choose their own learning undermines public education and creates a citizenry that is not culturally literate, integrated or disciplined. To avoid undemocratic chaos, universal compulsory schooling — not homeschooling — is necessary. Homeschoolers respond to this criticism by questioning the premise of citizenship. Is a democratic citizen only a voter, taxpayer, or consumer? Or, is s/he a maker and shaper of society? If the latter is true, then being a self-motivated, self-disciplined, creative individual is crucial. Homeschoolers also point out that today’s schools do very little to create good human beings, who care for one another and who do things to benefit society (instead of just themselves).

To further understand homeschooling, try discussing the following:

- How do you think homeschooling/unschooling would benefit/ hinder your family or community?

- Do you think it would be possible to homeschool/unschool in your family? Why or why not?

- What resources exist in your community to support families who wish to homeschool/unschool?

Source: Adapted from <www.learninfreedom.org>.

 

RECLAIMING OUR LEARNING INSTINCT

One parent shares his experiences with unschooling:

"My wife and I did not begin with the notion that our son would not go to school. We assumed that he would find an alternative school at age five. What we did begin with was a conviction that we would help him in any way possible to realize his potential... By the time he was two, we found that we literally couldn’t stop him from spending his day in learning. He read very well by two, and by four moved onto continuous lessons in nature, history, science,etc.

By the time he was five, he was so used to getting up in the morning with the ecstatic prospect of learning all day long that I hated to change his belief that learning was natural by sending him to school. Still, I took him to a few schools and asked him to make his own decision. He said that he thought it would be like going to jail which he said that he preferred not to try... So during his early years, my wife and I and a couple of friends taught him all he wanted to know — and if we didn’t know it, which usually was the case, it was even better for we all learned together.

Many defenders of compulsory schooling and compulsory learning have asked me: ‘How can a child know what he needs to learn?’ I have always said that though the child may not know what he may need to know in ten years, he knows, and much better than anyone else, what he wants and needs to know next. In short, what his mind is ready and hungry for. If we help him, or just allow him, to learn that, he will remember it, use it, build on it. If we try to make him learn something else, that we think is more important, the odds are good that he won’t learn it, or will learn very little of it, that he will soon forget most of what he learned, and what is worst of all, he will soon lose most of his appetite for learning anything."

Source: Growing Without Schooling: A Record of a Grassroots Movement, Volume One, 1997.

 

A TRIBUTE TO DROPOUTS

This poem is dedicated to all those courageous learners in India who have chosen not to go to school or to leave school to pursue more meaningful, creative and just paths of learning, living and becoming.

Don’t impose on me what you know,

I want to explore the unknown

and be the source of my own discoveries.

Let the known be my liberation, not my slavery.

The world of your truth can be my limitation;

your wisdom my negation.

Don’t instruct me; let’s walk together.

Let my riches begin where yours ends.

Show me so that I can stand

on your shoulders.

Reveal yourself so that I can be

something different.

You believe that every human being

can love and create.

I understand, then, your fear

when I ask you to live according to your wisdom.

You will not know who I am

by listening to yourself.

Don’t instruct me; let me be.

Your failure is that I be identical to you.

        Umberto Maturana, "The Student’s Prayer"

 

CHALLENGING COMPULSORY SCHOOLING

The following has been excerpted from Dayal Chandra Soni’s "The Ills of our Present Education and Gandhian Basic Education as a Remedial Measure" (April, 2000).

"When India adopted her present Constitution, it was laid down in its Article 45 that ‘the State shall endeavor to provide, within a period of ten years, from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years.’ The general public opinion, largely, is that this is a very good provision in the Indian Constitution. But, in my mind, this is a very wrong provision in our Constitution. My arguments are as follows:

1. Nothing, which is imposed by a Government as a compulsory exercise, can be truly called education. Compulsion is anti-education.

2. This Article is silent about defining the concept of education. The Article implies that anything that one does in a school is right education and anything that one does out of school is non-education.

3. The Government is not a safe and qualified custodian of education. Education is an organic process, which is based on mutual love and respect between the guru and the learner, and a Government cannot be a mediator between the guru and the learner.

4. This Article does not lay down that private interests should not be allowed to introduce class distinctions in the schooling system and the rich and the elite parents will have to send their children to the same schools in which the children of poor parents get their education. This is the most serious sin of this Article. It exempts the elite class children from undergoing the same educational process which is provided for the poor children. Thus, class distinctions are introduced and/or reinforced, even at the initial stage of life of the future citizens of India.

5. My final objection to this Article of the Indian Constitution is that it does not define any concept of an educated person nor does it indicate the values which it aims to nurture in the so-called educated generation. This education restricts itself to giving only information and functional skills to its students. The development of human beings who will maintain moral values in their conduct or who will strive for doing excellent work in their accepted job is totally ignored. According to our present education, it does not matter whether the ‘educated’ person exercises morality in his work or adopts immoral means to achieve his ends. The degrees of B.A., M.A., or Ph.D. will safely stick to him, irrespective of his conduct."

 

"Suppose a man is sucking a lump of arsenic and you warn him that the stuff is poisonous. Would he be considered sane if he countered by saying that he must first be given a cup of nectar; otherwise, he would not give up whatever he had?"

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, responding to those who foolishly argued that one could not give up poisonous educational institutions that created slavery until new models were provided.

 

CLOSER TO HOME

Among the South Asian individuals and organizations consciously thinking about and creatively working on resisting factory-schooling are:

NETWORK

The present mainstream education system, which stresses conformity to a pre-set standard, places unnecessary pressure on individual children to meet this standard. In the race to keep up, children lose the pleasure of learning. Many drop out in frustration because of their inability to cope. Some are "streamed" out of the mainstream. Several groups have been working quietly to create alternative forms to challenge this kind of education. These experiments, however, typically tend to be small and isolated and the persons involved often feel overwhelmed and occasionally discouraged in the face of the seemingly monolithic nature of the dominant educational paradigm. As Ramdas from Vidyodaya School (Gudalur) describes, "There was some knowledge of what and where similar things were happening, occasional coming across each other at seminars, but no real joining of hands, no sense of fraternity. Isolated, we run the risk of being incorporated within the mainstream educational system and society one way or another. In fact, it would not be amiss to say that each of us has compromised her/his ideals and vision in order to ensure a space to continue and survive."

Thus was born the idea of a network. Today, the Network is an informal group of around 35-40 individuals from the Indian states of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and Kerala who are active in the field of education with an ‘alternative viewpoint’. Individual members of the network belong to institutions (schools or similar educational programs which are small in size and do not receive government funding), but do not ‘represent’ them. The Network meets each year for 2-3 days. Although a theme is chosen for discussion, it is less of an academic seminar and more a free flowing sharing of concerns and views. Some of the issues that have repeatedly re-surfaced are: the relation of alternative schools to the mainstream and the relationship of the school to the wider community. Underlying the discussions is a continuous tension between the desire for deepening radical commitment to creative education and being bound by the constraints and demands of a particular context. However, what has been important for the discussions are our efforts to retain a sense of search (and to not feel under pressure to produce definitive answers).

Most members leave the meeting with renewed hope and enthusiasm. Sometimes one gains a few insights, at other times the churning of ideas and themes that occurs at the meeting seems troubling and one feels a year must go by before the muddied waters become clear again! Smaller partnerships and synergies have also grown out of the annual get togethers. For example, Poorna Learning Centre in Bangalore visited another network school, Kanavu at Wynad (Kerala). One outcome of this has been that a group of eight children from Kanavu (working predominantly with rural tribal children) came to Bangalore to spend 6 months with the urban middle-class children at Poorna. Some Poorna children will later stay a few months at Kanavu as part of the

continuing exchange program. Such exchanges, visits, and various modes of sharing form some of the most exciting aspects of the Network.

For more information, contact:

Indira Vijaysimha, Poorna Learning Centre

1627 C Block, Sahakarnagar, Bangalore- 560092

Email: <indiravijaysimha@usa.net>

 

Further Reading and Resources —

Websites

Holt Associates: <www.holtgws.com>

Educational Heretics Press:<www.gn.apc.org/edheretics>

Homeschool Zone: <www.homeschoolzone.com>

Ivan Illich: <www.preservenet.com/theory.Illich.html>

 

Articles and Books

Please stop by 21 Fatehpura at your convenience to check out the books, articles, newsletters, and unpublished original research in our Resource Center.

Gatto, J. T. Dumbing Us Down; The Hidden Curriculum Of Compulsory Schooling. New Society Publishers, 1992.

Gorder, C. Home Schools: An Alternative. Mesa, AZ: Blue Bird Publishing, 1996.

Hern, M. Deschooling Our Lives. New Society , 1996.

Kohn, A. Punished By Rewards. Houghton Mifflin, 1999.

Levinson, B. A. et al The Cultural Production Of The Educated Peson. State University of New York, 1996.

Ong, A. Spirits Of Resistance and Capitalist Discipline. State University of New York Press, 1987.

Prakash, M. S. & Esteva, G. Escaping Education. Peter Lang Publishing Inc., 1998.

Rahema, M. & Bawtree, V. The Post-Development Reader. Zed Books Ltd., New Jersey, 1997.

 

SHIKSHANTAR:

The Peoples’ Institute for Rethinking Education and Development

Shikshantar, a not-for-profit movement, was founded to challenge the monopoly of factory-schooling as the primary means of supporting human learning and just, people-centered development in society. We are committed to creating spaces where concerned individuals and organizations can come together to: (1) generate meaningful critiques to expose and transform existing models of education and development, and (2) elaborate (and continually re-elaborate) complex shared visions and practices of lifelong societal learning for Swaraj in South Asia.

Shikshantar is based in Udaipur (Rajasthan, India). Our core team works in collaboration with local, state, national, and international partners through a dynamic process of ‘research for action’. We are closely linked to the Institute for Development Studies and Practice in Karachi (Pakistan) and The Swaraj Foundation in Chicago (USA). To learn more, or to find out how to join our efforts, please contact us at:

SHIKSHANTAR

21 Fatehpura, Udaipur 313004

Rajasthan, India

Tel: (91) 294 451-303

Fax: (91) 294 451-941

e-mail: shikshantar@yahoo.com

www.swaraj.org/shikshantar

We welcome and encourage your reactions, questions, suggestions, and support.