Wednesday, February 25, 2009

HomeSchooling starter notes

Recently a friend said that they are taking their 6 year old out of her school this year and what advice and resources could we provide to help in their journey. Set me thinking!

My first response was- Wow thats great! Just go ahead and do it.

What more could I say? It seemed a bit like:-
Someone who doesnt read too much asking R K Narayan: "Sir, what is your latest book about?"
R K Narayan: "Well, it's a story that took eighty thousand words to tell. So it is somewhat difficult to explain in a few sentences."

On second thought however I saw the merit of thinking through and making our list as a starting point for the face-to-face with our friends. So we sat down last night, the wife and I and made a random list of things that we would want to tell someone starting out homeschooling in India. Issues and advice and insights that helped us in our own journey.

This is what the list looks like when I added some structure to the randomness:

Unwind and unlearn: It is good for your new homeschooling family to 'unlearn' all you have ever 'learned' about 'learning'. (This may seem paradoxical but going ahead you will find that paradoxes and contradictions will become the roadsigns in the no-road territory you have decided to walk on. Another paradox:-)) Take
a month/ six months/ one year or whatever time you can afford off to do this. This process of unlearning is very important because the standard social structures, schooling being one of them, are embedded so deeply in our psyche that we ARE the structures. It is good in the beginning, therefore, to not have any agenda but to become less tense and just watch things as they unfold. There is a chance that you may learn a lot from this exercise but you will DEFINITELY 'unlearn' a lot. So it may be a good idea in the beginning to perhaps meanderingly, slowly, follow your child's interests wherever they take you.

Work hard: Managing constant change in unfamiliar terrain is a lot of hard work and very tiring. Be prepared for this. Also remember that in this case even what to work on is not very clear and needs to be discovered first. It is only in the era of mass schooling that hard work has come to mean sitting at a desk or on the computer and DOING something. Do not feel guilty about doing NOTHING but watching and waiting and thinking.

Be stubborn: The results will take time to show. Till they do, 99% of your immediate world will loudly object to what you are doing. In time, when the results are plain for everyone to see, 98% of them will still object. Growing up away from the mainstream is a difficult thing. The mainstream is not evil. It evolves too. Become aware that you are the leading edge of that evolution. Be stubborn about this!

Set up alternative structure: When you break one basic structure you need to start work on setting up an alternative structure that you consider better. Many homeschoolers wont agree but the point is that 'no-learning-structure' is also a structure. Start thinking about and working on version 1.0 of your alternative structure. Use your unlearning time to unhurriedly work on this problem.

Research resources: If you want a school curriculum for 1st standard to 8th standard the CBSE curriculum and the NCERT books that go with it are a wonderful wonderful resource bank. The text books were revised after the National Curriculum Framework document of 2005 talked about making learning more fun for the children. If you are taking your child out of an ICSE school you will be way ahead on the CBSE Age-Curriculum curve and can afford to take it easy without any curriculum for as long as one year. (If you are into unschooling then all this curriculum talk maybe getting you edgy but bear with me. A lot of people are caught up in curricula and suchlike things and just like you and me they need help too :-))
For more information on homeschooling in India check out the alternative education India site here and join the yahoo group of Indian homeschoolers here. You may also like to go through the posts under the label HS FAQ on this blog.

Read: I could have added this under some other heading. But Arvind Gupta deserves at least a new heading if not a whole blog post just for himself. If you don't know who he is, please find out about him here. His site has ALL the books and video links that you need to equip yourself as a homeschooling parent. You will need to read and read till you find the things that resonate with you. There are books here that have the potential to change your established worldview instantly which brings us to the next heading...

Evolve worldview: The Wiktionary defines worldview as-
  1. One's personal view of the world and how one interprets it.
  2. The totality of one's beliefs about reality.
  3. A general philosophy or view of life.
Worldviews change and evolve over our lifetimes. Often due to apparently random events that happen to us. By choosing homeschooling you have just signed on the dotted line of the non-random route to evolving your worldview :-). So start reading and discussing and thinking and passionately working on the evolution of your worldview.

Coalesce a sangha: For the homeschooling parent a peer group that approximately talks the same language is extremely extremely important. Its the rubber dingy in an angry sea. No less! And for the homeschooled child another homeschooled child is reassurance that her parents are not the only weirdos on the planet :-)

Understand the process of learning: This is talked about in a lot of detail in another post here. Let me just add that it is important that you observe and understand for yourself how the learning process actually works. Don't listen to the experts and don't listen to me the non-expert. Rely only on your own observation and experience and insight. You may then discover that you need to throw out all your previous ideas about it. This is what
John Holt has to say from 'Teach your own', his book on homeschooling (But don't listen to him either:-))- I can sum up in five to seven words what I eventually learned as a teacher. The seven- word version is: Learning is not the product of teaching. The five-word version is: Teaching does not make learning.

Recognize homeostasis: This is the tendency of complex systems (from the circulatory system to whole human beings to whole societies) to resist sudden change. It is a basic self preservation mechanism and it is blind to the difference between ''good' change and 'bad' change. Why is it relevant here? Well, when you embrace radical change you usually discover after it seems to be successfully implemented that the entire initiative loses its energy suddenly and appears like a bad decision that you begin to regret. Become aware that this is probably the drawing room of homeostasis auntie and you are having tea with her. And the point of writing it out in such detail here is that in such cases your awareness IS therapy.

Work on self development: This is an opportunity to come out of your comfort zone. Search for and implement in your lives long-term practices that transform your body, mind and spirit. Educating yourself or growing consciously is the biggest contribution you can make to your child's development. There can be nothing better for real education than a family working together to grow and develop and realize its collective potential. Some of the clear areas where you can immediately start working on your growth are:
  1. Awareness: Become more aware of every waking moment. You cannot afford to miss any of the gifts that the universe showers on you for swimming against the tide.
  2. Love and service: Grow outwards to include more of the universe in your loving embrace. (Moving forward from your taste buds to your comfort to your family to the nation to the world to the universe)
  3. Gentleness: Even if you are stressed out and irritated and sleeping less please remember to increase the gentleness with which you handle your children. You can go to a pub to drown your sorrows but they have no escape from you.
  4. Patience: Be aware that lasting change is a slow process. There would be some peaks but many more plateaus. Continuously affirm to yourself that you are in it for the long haul. Cultivate deep patience.
And lastly...
Dont get frightened:
by this long post:-). You are on to a good thing. Have fun!

So already-homeschooling friends- we cant think of anything else to say here. Please comment on this post and tell us what we missed. I will update and correct the post as I start getting your feedback.


  1. Hello Arun-ji,

    I am a new homeschooling parent and came to know about your blog through alt-ed-india yahoo group, sometime back. I have read almost all of your blog posts and have loved your insights and deeply thought out posts very much.

    I specially liked this one since its more relevant to me. All of your points are very well considered.

    Looking forward to more inspirational posts from you. Best wishes to you and your family.


  2. well written - cover all the aspects of home schooling. Unlearning is imp. Also TRUST your child that he is capable of learning.:)
    Aditi- Ratnesh

  3. Hi Arun!
    I found this article somewhere on the net... It fits in with all you have to say-

    The Real Cons of Homeschooling
    — Tammy Takahashi
    You’ve read about them in home schooling articles, you’ve heard them brought up in conversation, and you may have even written a letter or blog entry defending against them - that’s right, we’re talking about the CONS OF HOMESCHOOLING. (Insert suspense movie music here.)
    So many non-homeschoolers stress over their perceived cons of homeschooling, and we explain ourselves again and again. But, the answer is always, “Those aren’t cons, those are pros!” I wanna say, “Give me a *real* con to discuss.”
    So here it is. A list of real home schooling cons, from a homeschooler who is in the know. If you are thinking of homeschooling, or you don’t know much about it, this is the list that will tell you all there is to know about the problems that homeschoolers have, and where homeschooling is lacking.
    1) Parents and kids have to learn to accept each other as they are, and to get along with each other so well that they can live together peacefully.
    2) Parents have to accept responsibility for their actions and live their lives, pretty much all the time, in a way that they want to see their children live their lives.
    3) Families have to listen to a lot of smack, and field a lot of questions about their decision. It takes a long time to convince the world around them that it’s OK that they don’t send their kids to school.
    4) Parents have to be resourceful. Parents have to learn how to find things in their community, how to get information on their own, how to access people who can answer their questions, and how to communicate well.
    5) Parents have to let go enough that they can balance their devotion to their children with their own interests and self-care. Parents in school have to do this too, but it’s more poignant in homeschooling, because it’s very easy to spend every waking moment dealing with homeschooling “stuff” and kid “stuff” that we forget about who we are as individuals with our own interests.
    6) Homeschooling requires dedication - but not to workbooks and curriculum. Homeschooling can involve these things, but the dedication has to be towards being a good person, being open minded, and to being involved with the family. It also requires parents to be dedicated to understanding their children.
    7) Homeschoolers have increased chance of making themselves sick with worry, with fear and with guilt. One of the biggest cons of homeschooling is the time it takes to learn to live as a homeschooler without these hovering over us.
    Homeschoolers have to pave their own way. Even if there is support and resources available, ultimately, homeschoolers have to shovel most of their own snow. In other words - homeschoolers have to be independent and willing to put in the footwork.
    9) Often, homeschoolers have to stand up, alone, and do what they have to do even though others around them are doing something different. Homeschoolers have to be OK with not conforming, and know themselves well enough to be able to walk into a situation and know they are the only ones there who homeschool, and will probably be questioned, talked about or even confronted.
    10) And finally, homeschoolers have to accept that no matter what they do, life will never be perfect; kids will always have holes in their learning, the house will never stay clean, and there will never be enough time to get everything done that we want to do. The hardest thing about homeschooling is choosing between the million and one options, million and one workbooks, projects and learning opportunities. The biggest benefit of homeschooling is also the biggest con of all - freedom.

  4. Hi Arun sir,
    We are also new into home schooling. Thanks a lot for the insights. It was a wonderful first interaction. Waiting for the face to face.
    Thank you.

  5. Dear Amit, Aditi, Hema and Uma,

    Thank you for your comments and encouragement. Looking forward to more interactions online and face-to-face with all of you.


  6. Hi Arun and Aditi

    Thanks ! Nothing more, nothing less.. :)


  7. Hi arunji
    I have taken the decision of homeschooling for my kids.i got to know your blog through my cousin's daughter who is a direct senior to your daughter.
    Thanks a lot after reading your blog I am sure I can do wonders to my daughters...
    Thank you thank you thank you