Sharing two summaries of the circles on Unschooling: Ask, Share, Reflect that I hosted and facilitated at Learning Societies UnConference at Bhoomi College, Bangalore.
As a parent I do not deliberately ‘teach’ my children. I have been facilitating their learning. And at times that means just standing aside to watch and observe what they pick and what they are drawn to. It means asking them if they want more of what they pick. The most interesting has been watching both my son’s and daughter’s reading explorations. I never told them to read the ‘usual’ suggested readings or books. Ishaan has a natural affinity towards fantasy, architecture and factual knowledge. So I provided material based more on that. He is now reading Three Musketeers, because of his interest in France and popular video game Assassin’s Creed. It all started when he was three years old with Eiffel Tower. His favourite book so far is BFG by Dahl, it all started with his interest in Lord of the Rings and Hobbits. His interest in exploring giants, elves and other creatures.
Gourika, didn’t enjoy reading books for a long time. Her first self read completed book was the Twilight Series. I thought she was interested in Vampires. But she was actually interested in love, emotions, adolescent emotional issues and relationships. She started watching web series, reading blogs, watching YouTube on these themes. Suddenly she is reading full novels. She recently read, Girl Online by Zoe Sugg. And from Zoe Sugg she got her recommendations of the next few books she wished to read. Zoe Sugg has a book club on YouTube. So now she is reading ‘Eleanor and Park’. And she already has a list of books she wished to pick up next!
And of course Ishaan will read anything to do with Star Wars!
I conduct circles of sharing and listening. I am a single parent. And I have felt the need to create a space of sharing and listening for other single parents of all genders. Yesterday, I had my first circle for single parents. One parent showed up.:) And this parent, a single mother, thanked me for inviting her. She told me,’thank you for inviting me, as most people forget that even though my daughter lives with her father, I am a single parent.’ She added how because people do not ever ask her about mothering, she herself forgets that for 11 years she has been a full time mother to her child. Incidentally she also homeschooled her daughter, and she finds that no one ever asks her about homeschooling. Her daughter is now appearing for public exam as a homeschooler. A huge chunk of the credit for her daughter’s education and learning goes to her mother. And yet she feels sad that perhaps her contribution to her daughter’s infant years and formative years will go unrecognized and perhaps even unacknowledged.
As we both shared and listened to the challenges of being a single parent, we touched upon the pain of being a parent (single or otherwise, man or woman) and also touched upon the greater pain of holding the pain of our children as they walk through life and towards their destiny.
I am a single parent and my children are living with me. That has both huge challenges and joys. As a single mother, I feel the freedom of being creative with parenting, as I do not have a spouse to tell me what is best for the children. Along with that immense freedom I feel the immensity of the responsibility that is also vested in me. The chances of going ‘wrong’ and being blamed for not making the right choices for my children vest heavily in me. I walk the path of imperfect but peaceful parenting, trusting my intuition and that of my children about life and children.
I feel angry with myself for having to depend on my ex-spouse for finances and from there stems my fear of being judged for ‘things not turning out perfect as the world sees it’. This factor pushes me to be open and compassionate towards my ex-spouse, pushes me to strengthen myself to hold his fears and doubts with love and care. I feel vulnerable as I see how despite being divorced I need him and he needs me. And this factor pushes me to transcend our past pain, it pushes me to practice forgiveness and to see him as a fellow traveler beyond his role of being my ex-husband and father of our children. My vulnerabilities push me to hold the conflicts we have with love. But this love is larger and stronger, it is not attached to him being my ex-husband and not attached to the pain we created together for ourselves.
I expressed how I am learning to accept reality as it is and how I am humbly bowing to the larger inter-dependence of relationships.
This lady shared, that she feels she needs to strengthen herself to hold those moments with love and compassion when her daughter will express anger and rage at her for the trauma and pain of growing up in a broken home. She also shared how, she feels empowered now to see that children do not come to us for over-protection from pain and sorrows. She shared how her journey into deeper pain and coming out of it entirely by herself, empowers her to be ready when her daughter faces the world and the inevitable heartbreaks that come with explorations of one’s authentic self. She feels ready to embrace her daughter when she goes out there and falls in love and breaks her heart, when she goes exploring and stumbles, when she makes that turn which turns out to be a path full of thorns. She feels ready to receive the anger, rage and sorrow of her daughter as she learns to navigate through life and its inevitable suffering. She also shared how she sees her ex-husband’s need to be loved which makes him control their daughter and her.
We both shared how for us parenting is not about telling our children what is good for them and what is not good for them. We both shared how parenting for us is not about making sure our children never make mistakes and never get hurt, never meet the wrong kind of people, never experience violence, never get used, misused or abused, never fall, never fail, never be rejected. We both shared how for us parenting was about a deeper knowing that all that is inevitable and we want to be present for our children to come home to recuperate and rejuvenate from heartbreaks, rejections, failure and pain.
It is easier to share the joys and successes of our children. It is easier for parents to proudly take credit for the highs in our children’s lives. But I feel the real challenge of parenting is to take equal ownership of the lows and pain of our children’s lives.
See you for the next circle.
I conduct Listening and Sharing Circle for Single Parents and other Parents in Pune, India. These sessions can be one-on-one or for couples or for men and women, for groups. Please write to me on email@example.com, if you wish to be part of such sessions/circles. You may write to me if you are facing any parenting challenges with your young and adult children. And we can together work out possibilities of sharing and listening.
I don’t want to talk about children who go to regular schools. For most who do not know the history of school, let me tell you it was a place designed to take care of the children of the state so that adults where free to be absorbed into the growing industrial work force. It was also a place that was designed to fashion a huge working force needed to fuel the growing economies of the world.
Well just over hundred years and people of the world forgot the real purpose and started to feel, living without schools was unthinkable. That is unfortunately how easy it is to alter the minds of world citizens, by mass propaganda.
But anyway, I do not want to talk about virtues or evils of mainstream schools. I want to talk about the question. Do parents and families love being around their children and why it is important to create more free-flowing learning spaces?
The Alternative Learning Spaces that are trying to bring about some real changes in the way learning happens in children, will become sustainable only when parents who want alternative education for their children become co-creators of such learning centers. I find that many alternative schools are being yet again used by parents to offload the primary task of being around their children on alternative teachers.
Especially in my country, India, with Right to Education Act coming down heavily on such centers and lack of sustained funds to pay unconventional teachers and stop children from leaving for more mainstream schools, parents need to drop their other pursuits, at least by turns, to become active partners in these kind of learning spaces. Otherwise I see no difference between parents who send their kids to conventional schools and alternative schools. The second option being just another attractive looking fad, hard to sustain for both parents and the school. Till parents and extended family enjoy being around their children, no real transformation in education is possible.
So the question for reflection for parents or to be parents is “DO I LOVE BEING AROUND CHILDREN?”
Homeschooling and unschooling are options but clearly not a valid one for many who find it hard to be always with their children till the children are old enough to find other avenues outside the parents’ circle. I am an unschooling mother to two children, and yet would not recommend this to all parents. Simply because it is not everybody’s cup of tea. Am I being arrogant here? Well yes I am. It takes all of oneself and much more to be fully dedicated to your kids for a long a time.
But the other holistic options that can help our children to find their inner calling and creativity are co-op spaces managed and run by parents themselves. Dropping the kids off to yet another center managed and run by some passionate alternative educationist is not sustainable in the long run unless parents join as co-creators in these centers. That is how community takes responsibility for its children lovingly and compassionately.
Of course there are issues of single parenthood, single income families, ambitions of both parents etc that need to be addressed, but simplification of life and the joy of being around our kids, must drive this whole path, and not passing the buck!
The issues are different and in different intensities with economically disadvantaged families. But I am concerned more for the urban families living in cities who speak or understand English and read wise books from all over the world, as I am part of this kind of community right now!