Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Why my daughter doesn't deserve school

It's a provocative title isn't that one? It'll probably set the alarm bells ringing among proponents of the right to education. I guess it may have incensed feminists as well. Some of you may call me a crazy parent. I'm quite happy to take all of the criticism as long as you have the patience to read to the end of this article. Before I put you through that misery though, let me share my basic premise. Education and school are two distinct and often non-overlapping concepts. I personally believe that the institution of school is counterproductive to the journey of education and to the irreplaceable experience that is childhood. I want my daughter to grow up as a beautiful human being. I want her to enjoy her childhood, to embrace the confusion of teenage and to follow her passion. I'd like her to learn deeply and question status quo as she grows up. School is unlikely to give me any of that. And by the way, when I say "school" I mean school as we've always known it. I'm happy to accept newer definitions for that institution. Yes, you may disagree with me. If you do, I'd love to learn from you. If you thought my article promotes illiteracy or misogyny though, my disclaimer may just prompt you to read further.

What is education?

An interesting question to ask ourselves as parents would be, "If governments across the world banned certificates, diplomas and degrees then what would we consider as education?" I find it interesting that Wikipedia describes education this way:
"Education in its general sense is a form of learning in which the knowledge, skills, and habits of a group of people are transferred from one generation to the next through teaching, training, or research. Education frequently takes place under the guidance of others, but may also be autodidactic (self-driven). Any experience that has a formative effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts may be considered educational."- Wikipedia
Wow! Does it surprise us that no part of that definition has school or university in it? To me education has two very simplistic sets of goals:
  1. Utilitarian: the acquisition of skills so that children can grow up and make a living
  2. Societal: the addition of great human beings to society so they make the right decisions. This is even more important in our day and age as the impact of small actions at an individual level has far reaching consequences.
So how does school do on each of these goals? Let's see.

Imparting skills - how does school fare?

If you were remotely interested in this post, I take it that you've seen Ken Robinson's brilliant talk about how schools kill creativity. If not, do watch it. The talk from 2005 was path breaking in that it brought into public cognisance what we'd always said about education. Sir Robinson, in the space of 20 witty minutes tore the education system into shreds. He called out the absurd hierarchy of subjects, the process of academic inflation, and the need for multi-disciplinary thinking. He illustrated through examples how the system stigmatised bright people, simply because they didn't conform to the mould of school. Ken Robinson was neither the first nor the last to speak about this loss of creative potential but the talk did open up a proverbial Pandora's box.

Now, you'd imagine that if school is getting rid of "the creative types" and if you had the illusion that some children aren't creative, then well - school should do well with the remaining folks. Nothing is further from the truth. Let's look at millions of India's engineers and quiz them about the application of Boyle's law in real life. You'll find that several struggle to even recollect what Boyle's law is. Take the topic to organic chemistry or calculus which some of us spent four to six years of our lives studying. The lack of intuitive understanding for these topics is striking. As people how Gandhi's declaration of Swaraj relates to independent India and I doubt you'd receive much more than blank stares. The fact is that the factory of school is meant to do one thing - maximise pass percentages. The "good schools" pride themselves on creating "toppers" - children who can get great grades in exams. Frankly this is a worldwide plague. And yes, I know Finland has a great education system but it'd be foolish to compare a country of 5.4 million people with little or no diversity amongst them to a country of over a billion that speaks 800+ languages.

When one designs a school system to maximise grades then true learning falls by the wayside and the pressure for success in exams take over. Don't waste your time with lenses - the syllabus for the exam is just about mirrors. Stop reading that blogpost about environmental justice, it's time for you to focus on math. Why do you want to learn about germination now? It isn't part of the exam papers until next year! Why are you interested in learning about communist dictatorship when the teacher's asked us to study Tughlaq? Unfortunately we don't really learn in that fragmented fashion. We learn through a deep immersive passion for things. We learn through joy, amazement and wonder. Despite their best intentions, teachers with 30-50 pupils each in dark, prison like rooms, operated through a sequence of bells, are only able to focus on maximising exam scores. Guess what children learn from this factory like environment? They learn how to obediently follow narrowly focussed orders. Passing exams with good grades is only a head fake for this hidden curriculum.
“If you sit kids down, hour after hour doing low-grade clerical work, don't be surprised if they start to fidget." - Sir Ken Robinson
In addition, schools and teachers have gotten increasingly protective of the institution as the world has moved on. Back in the day, the notion of school may have made sense given knowledge was scarce and one had to "go to school" to learn from a teacher. Today, with the advent of IT, knowledge and means of skills acquisition are everywhere and yet, most teachers haven't woken up to the world and its possibilities. I don't think technology is a panacea for learning, but it surely does change the notion of what an educational institution is meant for.

And by the way, what are the eventual results like? Across India and the US, high school completion rates are often less than 50%. School has done nothing to bring generations out of poverty. In fact, industrialisation and modern schools have only created a bigger divide between the rich and the poor. A million engineers each year are unemployed in India. China has a rising number of unemployed graduates despite being one of the largest economies out there. And the US has half of its college graduates working in jobs that don't need a college degree- over 50% of graduates under 25 were without a job. One in three American graduates believes that the education system didn't prepare her well for real life! So much for the glorious promise of jobs that follow 16 years of formal education. One may point out the odd success story and the story of how their child became a fantastic professional because of school. I argue that the statistics reveal this to be the exception and not the rule. Most children that "succeed", do so despite school, not because of it. Things are just-not-working.

School and the History of Injustice

"Once he is educated, he will leave this mountain and learn this lifestyle. He will sell our land to the company. At these schools, they don't teach how to live with nature, they teach how to live by exploitation." - Tribal Sikuka Sani on why he doesn't want his son in school
To understand the social impact of school, we need to understand its origins. Now I don't want to deny that we had some form of schooling even in ancient and medieval times in the form of gurukulas and universities like Nalanda. There is a stark difference however, between the very principles of modern schools and these institutions. We can probably touch upon that in a separate post. The modern, western school is by design an instrument of injustice. The reason for that particularly in the Global South countries, is the inextricable link between school and colonialism. The European colonialists followed a very repeatable pattern. They invaded native lands and killed people indiscriminately. They took over the land and resources to exploit for their own benefit. Following this, the missionaries arrived to tell natives that they were heathens or pagans and that they needed to embrace a new god. Alongside, the colonialists set up schools to train entire generations of natives in lessons of obedience and to destroy their native way of life. The idea was to create a people that would be so conforming to the white way of life that they wouldn't see the white man as foreign. No wonder the inaugural address of the Carlisle Indian School said, "Let all that's Indian within you die".
    The story has repeated itself across the world. In India Lord Macaulay sought to create Macaulay's children, "a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect". In the Philippines, after a civilian massacre by the American forces, school teachers moved in swiftly to civilise the survivors. In Africa, the Europeans applied more brutal means through slavery and eventual Bantu schooling to serve the needs of the elite. Across the countries of the global south, the agenda of education has been quite similar. I'd like to believe that some people were acting in good faith. They believed it was necessary to civilise these brown and black people. The white man's burden was to educate indigenous people in their self proclaimed superior ways.

“You do it my way, by my standards, at the speed I mandate, and in so doing achieve a level of output I ordain, and I’ll pay you handsomely for it, beyond anything you might have imagined. All you have to do is take orders and give up your way of doing the job for mine.” - Fredrick Winslow Taylor
At the very same time 250 years ago, the Industrial Revolution was changing the world in a way that 500,000 years of human existence had never imagined. Machines had made means of production incredibly sophisticated and yet, the pace of production growth was limited by a major bottleneck. The effectiveness of the machines was almost undermined by skilled craftsmen who wanted to do a job well over doing it quickly. Their skills and deep thinking for their craft were no longer applicable. Post the industrial revolution, we needed people who followed orders. Obedience, not skill was the primary characteristic for employment. And so the workers sacrificed their creativity and skill for obedience, thereby making a deal with the devil. This has led to the system of schools that is modelled after factories. Back in the day workers sat on benches, in neat rows. That's what schools look like today. They operated in schedules dictated by a ringing bell. That's how schools operate today. They obeyed narrow orders without context. That led to the way we learn in fragments and follow teachers' orders today.

You could choose not to believe me but there's significant literature out there to articulate how school was an institution established to benefit few at the cost of many. In that, the system of school that we follow promotes the same injustice that it sought to create in the times of its inception.

So what does school teach after all?

With all this said, it's important to ask ourselves what children actually learn at school and I've come to the realisation that school is not just ineffective for young citizens of the global south - it's highly dangerous. Let me enumerate to you what children actually learn at school. And while this list isn't comprehensive, let me share with you ten deadly aspects of the hidden curriculum of school.
  1. West is Best: School teaches our children that the western model of life, is the paragon of humankind's potential. So our children grow up idolising Western cities - they've been sold on the idea of the west being so awesome, that they want to live there and work there. The accept everything that is western as superior, despite the fact that the west has serious problems with inequality, ecological balance, employment, women's rights, racism and other social issues. We look at our ways and our lives through the evaluative lens of the west. Whatever the west denounces, we denounce. Whatever the west approves we approve. No wonder every great city in India is losing its character in its quest to look like a Western equivalent.
  2. English rules the world: In Indian schools, children receive punishment if they speak in their regional languages - even on the playground. They're taught that English is a ticket to the high life. That no one will respect them if they speak their local language. As a consequence, parents too speak to their child in English if they can. This leads to a huge loss of culture through the loss of languages. India has lost 220 languages in the last 50 years - partly due to this mindless promotion of English over its true value as a link language. Language isn't just words and grammar - it holds the key to culture. Tribals in New Guinea and the Western Ghats can identify dozens species of birds by their songs; traditional healers can identify thousands of medicinal plants and how they affect the human body; the Andamanese tribes have the knowledge of how to sense natural disasters like the tsunamis. Every language we lose, eventually leads to the loss of rich culture associated with it.
  3. Your family's ways are backward and primitive: As children learn about the western world and its ways, they start to look at their indigenous ways as backward and primitive. Already, people look down on Ayurveda and glorify allopathy. They consider western dairy farming to be superior to our far diverse approaches. They think of mechanised industrial farming as a way to create better yields though traditional organic farming is far more sustainable. Children don't want to use local materials for their home any more because they're messy and awkward. Bio fuel from dung is despised because despite it's sustainability, it feels primitive. At the level of elders, this creates great inferiority as they start to believe that they know nothing and that school is a panacea for their children to experience happiness in life.
  4. Academic failure = failure in life: As Manish Jain of Shikshantar says, "One of the things that is most disturbing to me, at a level of justice and morality, is that you have an institution in place globally that is branding millions and millions of innocent people as failures." Is failure to succeed in school really the only indicator of a human being's potential? Haven't we learned from the likes of Beethoven, Tagore, Lincoln, Akbar, Edison, Einstein, Eminem, Jackie Chan, Sachin Tendulkar and several others that non-conformance to the institution of school is no measure of a human being's potential? And yet, every year we have millions of children who will not jump through the hoops of school and hence identify themselves as an "8th class fail" or something like that. How can any of us who think of social justice accept such an institution that is binary enough to say that those who conform to it are successes and those that don't are failures?
  5. Conform and get rewards: A corollary to the above learning what children learn about conformance. Those that obey the teacher's orders are those that get rewarded. Those that jump through the hoops of exams are the ones that come out on top. The learning of conformance comes from the act of wearing similar uniforms, mingling only with people who are in your age group. If you have an interest that isn't part of the syllabus, you'll most probably get no encouragement. On the other hand if you finish your borderline clerical homework the way your teacher wants, you'll receive a pat on the back. Conform to rules, conform to the bell, conform to the time table. If you play for longer than the time table allows (so what if you're a child), be ready to stand on the bench or kneel down or sit outside class and be the subject of ridicule. Worse, get caned. 
  6. Initiative is over-rated; wait for orders: Amongst the most dangerous things that school does to children is take away the boisterous enthusiasm of childhood. Someone lays out your day in a time-table. Someone decides what you study and when you study it. Someone decides who you can play with. Someone decides when you can play. If you try to do anything different, god save you. Guess what we get at the end of 16 years of such indoctrination? We get a society that takes no initiative and is ok with everything that happens around them. Let's not blame India's middle class for being apathetic to every social issue. School taught them to be that way.
  7. Be fiercely competitive: Don't get me wrong - I have no problem with competition. Certain spheres need competition - sports is an immediate one that comes to mind. Competitiveness becomes a problem when it becomes a way of life. Teachers and parents are obsessed with getting children to score the highest grades possible. Take a look at this commercial to visualise the pressures children face today. It's no surprise that children respond to these pressures by being fiercely competitive. Winning is everything - irrespective of the cost. So what if cheating is necessary to maximise your grades? Should you cram instead of learning? Why not? Especially if that boosts your scores. A central focus on competition makes for very bad decisions. Add to that the fact that schools usually are more obsessed to fill classrooms than to create great learning environments. Play spaces are small and pitiful. Hundreds of children compete for one basketball court. Guess who gets the court? The big, strong bullies? What learning does that reinforce in children? 
  8. The Triple Bind: I admittedly stole this from Stephen Hinshaw but this is primarily for the girls. I obviously care for my little girl and the advent of western education has created a new set of pressures for our girls as they hit teenage. We still want girls to be caring and nurturing. If we don't raise them this way, society looks at them awkwardly regardless of which part of the world they grow in. However the western focus of school and it's glorification of western media brings with it the pressures of looking a certain way. Girls also face this new pressure to "beat the boys" and be number one. So by the time our girls reach teenage, they have to help their moms at home, be involved deeply with the family, look drop dead gorgeous, be athletic, get super grades all while also being a size two. No wonder Hinshaw says, "One girl in four by the age of 19 will have developed serious depression, suicidal behavior, binge eating, cutting - etcetera." I believe Indian society isn't there yet, but we'll quite likely be there in another decade by the time my daughter is about to hit her teens.
  9. Massive consumption represents success: We've embraced the western economic model as our own and at the heart of the western model is the story of stuff - consumption. School by design glorifies everything including the western economy, globalisation, free markets, et all. Children, over years of education learn to value material objects deeply. Who has the latest iPad? Whose dad has the biggest car? Who has the coolest bungalow? They look down on others who may not have as much. Being mindless consumers means that you don't relate how many lives go in vain for that diamond ring or how much blood stains the coaltan in your phone or how many people were displaced for the aluminium on your motorbike. This creates a set of people that have a very different relationship to the planet than what we need in the next few decades. Nature is not an externality to the way we live our lives. All our wealth eventually comes from scarce natural resources. The forces of this world have enough firepower to destroy the planet a few times over. Our only hope is our next generation - one that questions mindless consumption.
  10. Working with your hands is stupid: The biggest bit of social injustice is what I save for the end. I work in a fancy IT company. I sit at a computer for most of the day and hardly move around. I actually have to run long distances each day to burn off the calories I eat. Society gives me a very high place - much higher than the farmer that feeds the nation. Wait - isn't that absurd? A person who slogs away to create food for the nation is lower in social hierarchy to a person that creates virtual 'stuff' in an air-conditioned office? The way we've architected our society reflects itself in how we teach at school. Children learn that working with your hands is for the lowest strata of society. They see no dignity in manual labour. The repurcussions of this are far reaching. The lack of interest in agriculture, the loss of indigenous professions, health, respect for people in society - the list could go on.
And hey, I haven't even bothered to brainstorm any further than this list. I'm sure if we thought this through, there'd be several other problems we'd be able to articulate with school's performance on social goals. In effect it's easy to see why the world isn't getting any better despite about 300 years of modern schooling.

What's the alternative then?

My daughter is just five and half months old so I have a lot of time to think this through. I realise though, that I'd be very unhappy if my daughter ended up having to suffer a factory school. Do I have a clear alternative in mind? Frankly, no! I know that my family may have preferred factory school because of the 'formula' it provided. They did the best they could for me. Today, I realise that the formula isn't working and really, education is a dynamic activity which we can't boil down to the simplistic progression structure of school. I'm exploring several different options, including alternative schools like those from the Krishnamurti Foundation or the Steiner Schools. I do have a few things in mind that I want my daughter to get out of her education - and I'm particular about these to the extent that I'm more than happy to homeschool her if necessary.
  1. Enjoy her childhood and grow organically
  2. Develop a respect for nature
  3. Experience the dignity of labour
  4. Build respect for tradition and indigenous livelihoods; learn extensively from them
  5. Gain mastery over all our family languages - Hindi, Bengali and Marathi
  6. Pursue knowledge for its own sake - not for curriculum
  7. Discover the ability to follow her passion without fear
  8. Question the status quo of the current world
  9. Learn to work with others, not against them
  10. Apply her learning in real life through inter-disciplinary challenges
And this journey isn't going to be straightforward. I expect to face new challenges every day. That's why I'd like to go along and learn on this journey with my daughter. This is not a well charted route - I don't know how to begin or how this will end up, but isn't that what parenting is all about? Isn't it far better to look at every day as an adventure than to give up your lives to the predictability of an institution? I surely would prefer the former.

Over the last few years I've grown more passionate about education than corporate learning and development and about social and economic justice more than just the business of IT. So pardon me if the bent of my posts seems very different from what I've posted earlier - maybe even contrary. I don't expect to keep the pace of posts I once had on this site but I do intend to post more about the issues that interest me right now. I hope you stay with me on this part of the journey as well and please feel free to tell me what you thought of this post.


Meghna said...

I absolutely loved your post and couldnt agree more with you on the factory schools churning out obedient commodities!
Our obsession with marks, our derision for traditional concepts, our lack of intuitive understanding for concepts we have studied in school, and our 'Western complex' have killed our creativity and passion- as a collective.
I still remember how i had to discontinue Classical dance in grade 5, because i couldnt keep up with the classes and my homework at the same time- a decision i regret till date, and i'm determined not to let that happen to my own kids.

Thanks for such a meaningful post, though yes, the task ahead is difficult, albeit adventurous :)

Shyamal L. said...

It is a very well thought and written piece indeed. A real problem is that the whole concept of urbanization and living in the city itself takes a toll.

Nanda said...

This is really a debate that will never end. The article is well written and gives many things to ponder over. I feel though the alternative is suitable only for a very small section who can afford it. Whether we like it or not, the school factory is the only way up for 99% of the population because of the way the economy is structured today. Few can afford to be creative 24x7 and succeed to make a living of it. I also think that many schools are addressing some of the criticisms and moving towards a more holistic education. Case in pt, ranks are not given in CBSE anymore. Most pts are right on, but some are very general and the author is stretching a bit blaming schooling for it. Ex. Consumption. All are to blame.. nobody is innocent.

Sumeet Moghe said...

@Nanda - I'm glad you find resonance in the general premise of the article.

I think we should advoid the pitfall of taking our economic models for granted. They are destined for only one inevitability - fhe destruction of humankind. Some great movies to watch about this topic are:
The Economics of Happiness
Surviving Progress

The subversive movement is already happening at http://www.localfutures.org/

We need children who will question this status quo and not blindly be part of it and for that education is key. I think we limit our definition of creativity. It's not just dance, painting, acting - it's in being able to look beyond the obvious. To live a life without creativity is the equivalent of following the motions - I couldn't wish that for any child, leave alone mine.

Now I do agree that this may be a huge chasm to cross for everyone, but I don't think affordance is a good enough excuse. Organisations like Swaraj University provide education on the principle of gift culture - so cost isn't really a constraint. However, I believe that the onus of social change rests on those with privilege -- people like me and perhaps that group includes you too. So I don't expect the family in a slum to take this step, but it's essential that I do. I'll be glad if the family in the slum resisted the monoculture, since they're the most vulnerable, but I'm realistic about the challenges.

Lastly, I can see how you may blame society at large for things like consumerism, but the seeds for these are sown in school. It begins from things like "fancy dress contests" - I used to feel very small comparing myself to the really fancy stuff other kids would come wearing. That alongside textbooks that glorified the western way of life, sowed the seeds of consumerism in my young mind when I was in school. Yes of course, external factors exacerbate the influence of school, but I can quote you paragraphs from current textbooks that literally catch children young and get them hooked to consumerism as a way of life.

Last but not the least -- points vs grades vs percentages. I think these are different wrappers around a broken curriculum. Fragmented subjects, imposition of a monoculture and a single minded focus on exams make the system rotten at the core. If anything school needs to be multidisciplinary and embody approaches like John Hunter's "World Peace Game". School isn't there yet though and people like Dr Tae, Diana Laufenberg and others represent the exception in school, really!

I'd love to talk to you more about this if you're in Bangalore. Cheers!

Jeff Walter said...

Great article. The problem with our education system is it was built for an industrial society and is not well suited for a post-industrial society.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a great overview of the problems of mass schooling. Some of the solutions you mention are also being championed here, and may be of interest to you:

With best wishes,

Nanda said...

@Sumeet, nice reply. I can see you have done extensive reading and thinking on this subject. It is true that when we say creativity, we generally mean the arts. I agree we should think of that to be just being free of the mind, to look at everything with a fresh view. Hmmm, it will be nice. :)

I do however, still feel that consumerism is not promoted by schools. The culprit is capitalism and the corporations which dominate our lifestyle today. Ad's, movies, pop-culture stars, TV, who are the promoters of this culture. A kid whether regular or home schooled will get exposed to it. There will be pressure from their peers. Parents in both the groups have the same responsibility to guide them about it. To know when enough is enough. Case in pt, my son (8yrs) on his own accord commented to me casually last week (after experiencing the traffic jams) that the Gov should not allow anyone to own more than 2 cars! :)

I will check out the movies. They sound interesting. But you know, I always compare the corporate/consumerism akin to a huge boulder rolling down a hill side. :( It is gaining speed year by year corrupting everybody and everything in its wake. Yes, you and many of us try to resist it..but eventually it will change only when something drastic happens. What that will be, I don't know.(WALL-E? :)) But as you say..we got to keep fighting until then.

Bala said...

@Sumeet, I absolutely loved this article. You have researched the topic in so much depth. I wish you all the strength for the journey ahead on whichever option you finally choose going forward.

Prakash Gudnavar said...

Hi Sumeet,
I loved the depth of your article. I can see you are engrossed and deeply concerned about our current education system.
I am part of Aarohi Life School(www.aarohilife.org) where we are experimenting with kind of solutions you mentioned. I would love to connect with you and explore more. I am in Bangalore.


Claude Alvares said...

I have a problem with referring people to this Ken Robinson guy. Remember we had the education system designed for us by an Englishman. Now we listen to another Englishman telling us how bad it is and we call him witty and laugh. Laugh at what? Millions of kids daily slaughtered in this institution so that we can have a TED lecture. But so many people have observed and seen what is happening to kids in school and how it scars their mind for ever. Some like you revolt and do something about it. But bulk of people who see what is happening right before their eyes, continue to push their kids into the institution. Thank you for a marvellous, well thought out piece. I like first person accounts, the narration of things based on experience. I am in Bangalore on August 2-4 and I hope we can meet, since I am finalising a new sourcebook called the Learning Sourcebook.

Gautam said...

Hi Sumeet,

Thoughtful & Insightful blog..Couldnt help but relate to the fact that most of us will not remember Boyle's law or why the hell did we learn calculus..In hindsight that knowledge is not for everyone..But look at it this way..We need to separate the grain from the chaff and unless we come up with a better way of elimination..this remains the only way..Coming to raising your kid..

We as parents faced the same problem..My child knows 4 languages..marathi( mother tongue);bengali ( father tongue);hindi ( spoken by a majority of his friends) &English( Spoken at school.Infact we insist that he speaks only his native languauge with us. We received a complaint from his school when he was 6 years that he does not speak English and that he should speak English at home. We pushed back the school saying they had to teach him English and we will teach him the languages.The school did not oppose this plan. Today he is pretty fluent in English too. As a 3rd subject my son himself picked up Marathi and not French as most of his peers did.
There is dignity in labour.My son helps us out in our cafe( we own/run 3 of them) whenever he is free or during important events. He waits tables/cleans them up.But he is only 10..I hope he has the same honesty when he grows older..
When I teach him a topic..I make him understand the basics..I do not think anybody propogates West is Best..As knowledgable parents it is up to us to inculcate what is good for our children and society.One can not escape consumerism..but you can limit it..

Esme Mendoza said...

Wonderful article. It summarizes very well all the truth about school.
We are going to do unschooling and travelschoolibg with our son.

We live in Mexico and we are living a deculturalization process to in benefit of US culture (the west monoculture).

I graduated from college, also with IT degree but now I am shifting career to fit my new more humanistic interests (coaching, family, parenting) . My husband holds a Ph D. on a special Physics area. Nevertheless a both of us (altough had been very good students) are completely confident about our decision after doing profound reflexion and insight.

We have read (actually studied) a lot about the true HARM that school does to the person's mind in the most vulnerable stage: infancy.

In my coaching practice I see everyday people succeed in achieving their goals to live the life they are really passioned about after they eliminate limiting beliefs learned in their infancy at home and school (generated by all those negative points depicted in the article) .

I also see many people totally disconnected from their true self. Alineated. John Talyor Gatto (gogle him) says "school trains us to be alienated" And that serves a purpose: how else could a person accept to sit for hours on an office day after day... for so many time of his life doing something that does not love and even hates while believing "that is the way it is"... "there is no other way" "this is a good life and good example to my kids" )

LETS FOOL US NOT: it is too much time a kid spends in school under influence that is not their parents. Yes the example parents set is the most important education BUT the majority of parents will end up "playing by the school rules" or else will be contradicting themselves and therefore being confusing to their children. (what would one say?: "dont worry about grades.. just do enough to pass. .. dont listen to criticism" .... " that teacher is wrong just ignore her "...)

I wish you the best. Hope you find a way that trully suits you to educate your daughter to provide her with the childhood and skills you envision for her own good and TRUE HAPPINESS.

Usha Pandit said...

Something that might interest you re: your search for solutions.


Usha Pandit said...

In my view one big funda that all teachers need to internalize is this: Education is not separate from who we are, it is us! When we educate ourselves we are simply discovering and unraveling our mysteries, what our world is made up of, and our relationship to it.

Let children engage with the fascination of life - all education is OUR story. Of how we have tried to make sense of the world. Therefore, until we excite the imagination of children, and arouse their curiosity to apply all theories to connect with their world, our work with them will continue to be mechanical and uninspiring.

Anonymous said...

Great article. My son attended an alternative school with no competition sports and it made a world of difference. He learned how to think, not what to think. He questioned everything because he could, chose the books he wanted to read and decided what he wanted to learn for his future with a little guidance. He even played organized club sports. Old School does not work. period.

Geeta Bose said...

Yes Sumeet, absolutely valid observations! I have debated a few of these myself and found a viable solution in the Waldorf education. My kid goes there and I see a world of difference in him. Despite being surrounded by gadgets and consumerism, they are insulated to the contrived and digitized world.
Check out -

Anonymous said...

I agree with your observations on the failures of our schools. However, as a parent, I believe you left out one of the most important things to teach - discipline. You cannot succeed without discipline. When you described your "top ten" I pictured someone that I know personally that experienced this type of education. This person was passionate and of genius IQ, but wasted all their knowledge and intellect because they lacked discipline.

Kristi said...

We have homeschooled our children in a Waldorf and Charlotte Mason inspired way for the past 13 yrs. I can tell you it has been very successful! My oldest is an amazing violinist, was concert master in her orchestra this past year, loves theater and Shakespeare and wants to pursue a career in film. We have never used testing or grades, yet her drive in unstoppable. My middle daughter has an amazing ability to focus, I do not think she would have developed this in a "factory school." Her passions are ballet and pottery and she is trying out the saxophone this year. I love to see my kids thriving and having such a passion for everything they do!

Tom Kuhlmann said...

Good thoughts. This is one reason many parents in the US homeschool. I like what Clark Adlrich has written about education. http://unschoolingrules.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

Excellent Post...I totally agree with your thoughts. Every individual has to think in the same way... Sorry to mention but it is the fact.. how many parents teach their kids call them amma/appa (as i am a Tamilian). They feel pride if the child call them Mom/Dad..Also people has the worst nature "comparison" i would say.. for example..my neighbor's or colleague's kid is going to international school, so my kid also have to go otherwise what they will think of me. I want to add something on the grades or percentages...due to current education and quota systems in India is also a reason to block creativity in the children... where ever you go the grades/ranks/(caste)/money matters. So every field loses real creative or talented people.


Anonymous said...

Hi sumeet,

I don't know if you remember me although we are still fb friends :) I was a twu grad in 2010. Well I got married and moved to Melbourne and quit IT.....I am an alternate ed teacher now...I run my own culture sensitive preschool now and I have 5-6 students. We also feel that the education system is not working. I am currently just doing preschool but I teach them our vaishnav culture through stories and songs- we are also learning sanskrita. We do English and maths as well...but it's all in the cultural context. And we do a lot of fun stuff - art, craft etc. it's so beautiful, and the children are thriving. I am planning to homeschool my own child. You can't change the world unless you change yourself. I always find articles like yours extremely encouraging. 2.4 million families in the US are homeschooling. I think it just requires courage.
-Shweta Shetty

Psaffy said...

A different and interesting "school" of thought!!

Karan Sood said...

I love the idea and your thoughts. However, here is why school's might be a necessary evil, because it imparts structure and it promotes competition. Structure because you go through 1000 things before graduation which is unlikely that it will happen when you home school or go for an alternative. Is all that knowledge necessary, maybe or maybe not. I hated biology, but some students in my class loved it, still do and ended up working in that field. Kids will not always know what they like until something is thrown at them. It's like an iphone, you never know you needed one until you came across one.

There will be a point when your kid will ask a question that you won't know the answer to, and that's where a good teacher comes in. You pay for the ability to walk to a teacher and prick his/her brain.

The other things I strongly strongly disagree is. First, while I was in school I was never taught that west is best. I don't remember that conversation with my teacher. At no point did my teacher say to me, karan move to US it's the best move you will ever make.

Second, the language english rules the world. Why are you writing this blog in english ? Knowing english does not mean you will rule the world, it only means it will give you equal footing in a lot of places with a lot of people. It's the worldwide common denomination. Same way that the dollar is not the best currency in the world, but its a common denominator. Would the world care if I knew a certain dilect of kangari language ? No it does not.

Third, your family ways are primitive. That's not an eductaion problem, that's when parents fail to impart the right values to their kids. I grew up in a city but I always made sure that I remember where my roots are and where I come from. No one does it for your children, but you. Alternative school will not suddenly make them more attached to their roots, we as parents have to do it.

Fourth, worse get canned, this does not only happen in school but throughout life whether at work, in your business or in a relationship. So everyone needs to learn it as soon as they can in life.

What a child will become will hardly ever be impacted by whether he goes to school or is home schooled. People who have it in them to shine or stand apart will do regardless of school or no school.

Sumeet Moghe said...

Hi Karan, thanks for sharing your thoughts. When I wrote this post, I knew it was controversial, so it's surprising that not more people have disagreed with me. I respect your disagreement and while it's unlikely that we'll agree over an Internet debate, let me try to share my views with you.

Now at no point do I wish to create the illusion that an alternative to school is easy. School gives you an illusion of a well thought out formula. Jump through 12 hoops of school and then 4 hoops of college and life will be awesome! Now I'll argue against that formula later in this response, but I can see why parents feel a sense of comfort with this. Alternative education or for that matter homeschooling on the contrary is a journey. Parents need to invest themselves into their children's education - not as teachers, but as guides. It's not as simple as outsourcing your kid to school. And so, the journey is not for the faint hearted. In fact that's why I believe there's a continuum of courage when it comes to education. It probably looks like this Homeschooling -> Alternative Schools -> Traditional Schools. You probably get the best results the further left you are, but it also needs the highest investment and the most courage.

Let me now try to answer your points.

First, with all due respect, I think you make some very uninformed assumptions about homeschool. For example, it seems that you believe homeschooled children can't compete. This is untrue as well - even in India homeschooled children do quite well in competitive exams and abroad, where this is more common, you see several more occurrences of homeschoolers excelling as well. While I'm sure you'll find several examples on the Internet, here are some pieces of evidence to warm you up:

Home-schooled 12-year-old cracks IIT
Delhi IIT-JEE topper is just 14 & homeschooled

Story of Jacob Barnett -a genius kid who was told at school that he'd struggle to tie his shoelaces and who subsequently homeschooled.

To answer your point about, "There will be a point when your kid will ask a question that you won't know the answer to, and that's where a good teacher comes in." It seems that you believe that homeschooled children only have their parents as teachers. Nothing is far from the truth. Homeschooled children have several teachers, and they probably are in a position to seek out really good teachers because they're not bound by the construct of school.

So, I implore you to first understand the nature of homeschooling or alternative education for that matter. A few good places to start:
Indian Homeschooler's Association/ Community
Debunking the myths of home schooling
-- contd --

Sumeet Moghe said...

While I hope the above links would have answered your point about structure, let me add my two cents. I think the belief you come from assumes that children are incapable of finding natural pathways for learning. There are two flaws with this thinking. First, the construct of school may have been remotely useful at a time when knowledge was scarce. So "going to school" to learn from "someone with knowledge" made sense. Let's look around us - is knowledge scarce. I can learn what I want to, when I want to, for absolutely nothing. With enough guidance and facilitation, just Khan Academy as a resource has more than school can ever offer. But that apart, I look at structure as being counterproductive. It teaches children to forsake initiative and wait for someone to give them instructions. Why study ahead of the curriculum when it's not in the syllabus?

I've worked in corporate education for more than a decade now and this is no figment of imagination. Every year, I've seen young people join our company and wait for instructions - it's really tough for them to come to grips with the real world. After all where in knowledge work, except school and college these days do people wait for someone to lay out every hour of their lives? Where do people socialise and collaborate only with people of their own age? The structure of school gives us comfort, but it's contrived. On the other hand, children in alternative education systems learn through play - they follow their mood swings and their interests and drive for the day or the hour. As they mature, they find specific areas they are passionate about. And as they realise that passion, they find mentors to guide them through choices for what we may call a career. When I started school, my parents had no clue of what I'd do for a living. As it turns out, the world is changing even faster today. The means of education that worked for me, won't work for my daughter but more importantly, the world doesn't need more order takers. It needs free thinkers who take initiative. School reduces every child to being the "average fifth grader" much like McDonald's makes the same burger everywhere, regardless of one's individual tastes.

You'll probably enjoy reading Manish Jain's piece on McEducation for All.


Sumeet Moghe said...

Moving on. You argue that your teacher never taught you that "west is best". Of course they didn't - this is part of the hidden curriculum. In education, we talk about "head-fake" learnings. Things that you're supposed to learn, but are never explicitly taught. Some head fakes are great. For example - team sports teach you loyalty, teamwork, personal discipline, etc. The notion of "west is best" is hidden in the largely west dictated curriculum, the blazer and tie uniforms, the over-valuation of English and the social definitions of academic and professional success. No one will ever teach you that because that would be grossly unpatriotic - in fact no one even knows that they're teaching you this. It's part and parcel of the system. It's worth asking yourself - how many children in your school ended up valuing a life in the west over being in India? Given a choice, how many would stay back in India versus work abroad?

Which brings me nicely to your point about English. I write this blog in English because I value English as a link language but I definitely don't believe that it is superior to Hindi, Marathi or Bengali which are my family's languages. I agree with you that English is a common denominator. All I wish for is that we leave it at just that. Unfortunately we've let it become so important that our approaches have killed 220 of our languages in the last 60 years.

The latest NAC recommendations on tribal policy pretty much prove the point. And by the way, why does it matter if the world cared or not? A huge part of Europe doesn't speak English. They do just fine. Most of China still doesn't speak English - they're trouncing the world right now? I don't think we should let our knowledge and use of English fool us to believe that the language has brought any large benefits to society at large. In fact, the divide between the rich and the poor has only widened despite English as a saviour that provides "equal footing". What English has done, is made India a sweatshop for the west - in form of call centres, cheap outsourcing units and support outfits.


Sumeet Moghe said...

About school not teaching people that their family's ways are primitive. Again, I think you're using your experience to generalise the impacts of education. You are probably just as privileged as I am in life. We probably already have lost enough of our culture already in our urban ways, but that's beside the point (and in any case, knowing our roots and practicing the life those roots advocate are different things). The people at the knife's edge of loss of culture and ethnic identity are the rural and tribal folks of India. There are several well intentioned schemes that pretty much pre-dispose what is good education for these people. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Education for All, the UNDP, IMF are all examples of these saviours who are out there to rescue tribal people. Thankfully good sense is prevailing. The latest NAC recommendations read thus,

"It must be recognised, however, that tribal children, even if they don't go to school are not "uneducated". They are taught traditional skills on how to feed their families, treat the sick and practice their ritual and have considerable ecological knowledge. Formal education, although sought after by many, need not be forced on those PVTGs (particularly vulnerable tribal groups) who do not desire it. Instead a learning pedagogy that consolidates and builds upon their knowledge should be facilitated.

Lessons should be learned from the experiences of tribal peoples in other countries. Schooling for PVTGs need to be embedded in the community and should involve adults from the community in both teaching and supportive roles as much as possible. Rather than removing children from their communities and cultures, schools should promote respect for, and knowledge of, the child's culture. It is imperative that children are taught in their mother tongue at least in the early years and that some teaching and activities in the mother tongue continue throughout the school"

So you see, the erosion of culture and language is something even the biggest proponents of school acknowledge. I think we can rest our case right there.

Last but not the least, your point about worse getting canned - with due respect this is a very arrogant viewpoint. Just because we came out on top at school is no measure of us being the best or someone being the worst. Many people who end up failing in school, fail not because they're stupid but because they're often from a different class and privilege. A "first generation learner" has no idea of how to game the system as someone like me who has had several generations before me go to school. I knew the skill of passing exams with flying colours - not because I was smart, but because my family had perfected the skill over generations. I don't believe this is any measure of skill or ability. And we only need to look at history (Einstein, Beethoven, Tagore, etc) and some of the examples I've shared with you to know that academic success is only a shallow measure of success. You really believe that someone who fails the contrived construct of school is an idiot?


Sumeet Moghe said...

Let me just say that what a child will become is totally dependent on that child's passion and the constructs society forces them into. Children that are successful in school are successful despite it. Let me answer your last point with some hard statistics. The big promise of school is that people who get this kind of an education and complete it successfully will get great jobs. Let's examine that.

India will produce 26 million children each year over the next decade
* Under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, 25 million of these children will go to school. Will they all get jobs? Let's see
* In the best years of our economy i.e. 2009-2011 we produced a total of 450,000 jobs i.e. 225,000 jobs each year
* We love the notion of 8% growth and if in some pipe dream we did achieve 8% growth year on year until 2029 (around the time when these kids will be ready to work), our economy will have… hold your breath… no more than a million jobs in the organised sector! 1 million jobs for 25 million children.
* What happens to the remaining 24 million? They become part of the unorganised workforce since even the ones from traditional livelihoods are disenfranchised from their age-old ways of life. * Think of the social divide and inequity.

This is not a figment of imagination either. The situation is only one that we extrapolate from today. Let's examine the situation:
* India produces 3.5 million graduates every year and 850,000 post graduates.
In 2012 we had 17 million enrolments into higher education.
* We produce 550,000 engineers. Let's look at just that engineering pie.
* Straight out of engineering, small IT shops hire 30,000 grads, MNCs and large IT firms hire 50,000 grads and 20,000 grads go abroad for studies.
* 450,000 grads remain unemployed right after graduation!
* After about a year from graduation, most of these "engineers" aren't working in engineering jobs. 150,000 of them still remain unemployed!

I leave it to you to research stats for other graduates and post graduates.

To me it's evident that the monoculture of school does nothing to create social good. It does what it's architect sought for it to do and there's plenty of literature around to prove this. The colonialists created school to subjugate the people they sought to rule, to erode their culture, and to establish the superiority of western culture. The overlords of the industrial revolution supported school to create obedient workers who would take orders and follow rules. School is doing what its founders meant for it to do.

quarterback said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karan Sood said...

@Sumeet Moghe... Don't get me wrong, I love and admired the way you think. Absolutely, no doubt!! And in no way I mean to say that alternative school is not good or bad. All I am saying is that it's not necessary.

About your anecdotal examples of a guy appearing and topping IIT or anyone like that, it's useless. Because, you cannot compare a 3B kids on the planet and say it applies to everyone because 100 people have done it or benefited from it.

You have to imagine this from a country's point of view ( with millions and billions of people). As much as we would like we cannot ship our generation back into 12th century nalanda, because at the end of the day it's like a machine with several cogs and also like a factory, a necessary evil. It will be all hell break lose if tomorrow you say you want to shut down the current schooling system or if we have a critical mass of people who think the same way.

You don't need to go to alternative school or homeschool to make your child stand out or to give him street wisdom. You can give that while he went to a regular school.

Looking back, you know who were the smartest people I knew. Those who went to school and were not the brightest bulb in the pack. They knew they will sail through school but also knew what they wanted to do outside of school. Some were playing the guitar, somewhere busy hammering a maths equation, some were taking photographs, some were playing sports. Did they need to go to alternative school ? No.

But what you are also not considering is that this does not happen in India alone. It happens in US, Canada, UK everywhere. School churn out factory cutouts all around the world, so it necessarily is not a country problem, but maybe more to do with us as humans and how we function.

You have no idea what your kid would do if he goes to school and what he would do if he is home schooled or goes to alternative school. You don't know. At the end you might be penalizing your kid for something you believed in. What if he comes to you one day and says I want to go to the regular school ?

Anyway, you have good argument. I too believe that today to learn something you need will and an Internet connection, but school will give what home school cant' because of the structure it imparts.

Sumeet Moghe said...

@Karan, I think we'll have to agree to disagree for now. You think of school as necessary and I think of it as an avoidable evil. I find it amusing though that you support your arguments for school with those that succeed despite school. This resonates with the statistics I've shared.

I do want to address a point you made in your most recent response though. The burden of change in society lies on the most privileged. So no, I don't expect the millions of parents in India to take the burden of change in our education system. That burden is on people like me who have privilege (the 1% of Indian society and perhaps a larger percentage in the west).

Of course the anecdotal evidence of a homeschool topper is useless in the larger scheme of things, but I wanted to provide that to you as evidence that this notion of "homeschoolers cant deal with structure and competition" is unfounded to say the least. Every homeschooling parent I know has some of the most thoughtful, deep thinking and complete individuals as kids. I encourage you to find homeschoolers around you to broaden your thinking about the practice.

Of course the problem of factory schooling is not Indian alone. I don't see what that means though? Do I subject my daughter to the risk of being a clone in school because everyone does that?

Of course, I don't know what my child will learn in homeschool or alternative school. I do know that she will learn the hidden curriculum in school (or she is at great risk of doing so) and school will have every mechanism possible to dumb her down.

As a parent I'll take the decision of NOT putting her in that kind of an institution. All parents make decisions for their children. My parents put me into factory school with very good intentions. It was India's oldest school, and had a great reputation. Well, I regularly didn't want to go to school right from day one. My parents took the best decision in their minds at the time - I unfortunately stayed in school. I don't blame them for it.

(That being said, I learnt nothing in school. I learnt pretty much everything outside it. School was merely a contrivance.)

In a similar manner, I don't know what'll happen if my daughter asks for regular school. As I said, I don't want to sit easy in the illusion that education is a formula. We'll get to that question when it comes up. I guess it's no different from a situation where my daughter is in factory school and asks to be taken out of school or asks to be in alternative school. This is a question every parent grapples with - what if my child doesn't appreciate my choices? Thankfully, by not looking at my child's education as a journey and not a formula, I've got several options open.

Sumeet Moghe said...

@Karan: And I do hope you read some of the resources I've linked to, so you can rethink your glorification of structure. Yes school can provide something homeschool can't. That's what the entire post was about :-)

And the comments and discussion that followed.

IK said...

A wonderful post thank-you. I have four children. One was a born student, who enjoyed school but was at times bemused by the repetition. He has recently graduated from University and has got a graduate position based largely on the merits of his personal interests, developed in spite of school (largely project based IT work not deemed 'suitable for assessment in his University course). My youngest daughter is completing school and she is conformist, whilst not engaged. It is a constant source of friction between my wife and I as I admit to a 'let the child make their own path with a little direction' attitude whereas my wife is into 'make the child!'). My eldest daughter and second son do not fit the mold at all. My daughter didn't fit in at school, and just didn't like it. She left at 14, worked, and traveled the world. Currently she lives in Mexico. My son, is 21 and married in Colombia. He is an entrepreneur, building web pages, selling jewelry and generally forging his way in the world. These two both speak fluent Spanish. My daughter in particular is unfettered by the conformity and standardization of a traditional western education. Ironically she is a voracious reader as she didn't do enough English to learn to hate it. I assumed my son would want to rush back to Australia (our country) with his wife, but he said 'what does Australia hold for me?' Like others I don't have answers either, but it seems so wrong that much of education (particularly primary and secondary) is little more than a baby sitting service to look after our kids while we work to pay their school fees. Sometimes I feel I have learnt more from my kids than they from me, and that does make me happy. We can but hope that our kids are kind, generous global citizens who will embrace learning beyond classroom walls.

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Nice blog...!!!

Sonia Verma said...

Alternate school or the so called normal one. We sure do need schools! I believe I have learnt much from my work place than my school or post grad education. But I guess learning is more individual centric too. Some people would like to learn at a particular time/age and for some it would be different. And since human race so stuck up on uniformity does the institution called school comes in picture. And what did i learn in school.. errr..... thats a tough one! ABCD i guess ;)

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Shirisha said...

This is really a great article..Everyone should think about this..In our childhood we used to enjoy schooling it was not at all burden..but now a days school is pressure cooker for every child..Thanks for sharing your feelings and en lighting us!!!

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Schools are required to keep parents free to work and keep adolescents off the streets so they cannot form gangs and wreak havoc. That is all.

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Kru Witoon said...

Good thoughts. This is one reason many parents in the US homeschool. I like what Clark Adlrich has written about education

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Sonnal said...

Been there done that...walking the Home schooling path..may my kids look back at their life with joy n pleasure.Wishing d same for ur journey too...it is a different journey with tons of self realisations n revelations...u will learn more than ur girl trust me!!!!

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Sumit said...

Loved your post..!! but in today's era Knowledge is the best art to enlighten your future. In mostly schools specially in india they teaches the theoretical part fully copied the book apart from this there is no knowledge regarding the practical part that is totally wrong and this is the reason why some students have lack of knowledge. Overall i Like your post and i appreciate it.

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Hi Sonnal, where are you living? Pls give me more details how did it work for you and your children? Love to know!!

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I loved the article, more as a thought!!! I would definitely be part of such world if exists! I love my daughter to follow such school/alternative or new path of life where there is meaning to life. But, how to make this possible?? Can this be made successful in one generation? Can our children live this life with peace?
Risk-->Do anyone give respect and accept it at the age of 20 year of our children age? If the surrounding world is not accepting then where to go, how to live?
If you have any idea pls keep me updated, love to join:)

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سسارره احمد said...

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سسارره احمد said...

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