PAM: Welcome. I’m Pam Laricchia from livingjoyfully.ca and today I’m here with Dola Dasgupta. Hi Dola!
DOLA: Hi Pam, nice to be on your podcast.
PAM: Oh, thank you so much. It’s so nice to see you. You know, we’ve been connected online for years, right. And I believe we have a mutual friend, Hema?
DOLA: That’s right. That’s right. Hema is a dear friend of mine.
PAM: Yes. Mine as well. She actually did the illustrations for my Unschooling Journey book. So, all of that is to say that I’m very excited about this opportunity to speak with you.
DOLA: Yeah, I’m excited too about this podcast because I’ve been listening to many of them and have read your blog as well, many people reference your blog and your books in a lot of unschooling forums. I have one of your books. I have referred people to it myself. So yeah, it’s really great to be on this.
PAM: Oh, it’s going to be lots of fun.
To get us started, can you share with us a bit about you and your family and what’s everybody interested in right now? I love getting a little snapshot.
DOLA: Yeah. So, we live Pune. Which is a smaller town, turning into a big city. In a state called Maharashtra, which is the captain of Bombay/Mumbai. I think people know Mumbai.
We move to Pune from New Delhi about 10 years ago. I was divorced, so I wanted to make a fresh start. So, me and my children moved to Pune. My daughter is now 18 and my son is going to be 14 next month. We are exploring a lot of things. My daughter is in to a whole lot of things right now. She’s kind of training in piano, in Western vocals, rock and pop. She’s in love with everything Korean. So, she self-taught herself the Korean language and now she takes a few classes. She’s part of a few exchange clubs, Korean exchange clubs. She’s also taking Japanese classes. Then she, she’s basically into multiple things, music being one of the most important things in life. My son, Ishaan—by the way, my daughter’s name is Gourika. We call her Ginny at home and being Bengalis, we always have two names, one for the world, one for home.
My son, he is mostly a gamer, he spends most of his time with his PC, and his favorite is Minecraft, still is meandered through Overwatch and Fortnite. But he keeps coming back to Minecraft all the time because he’s a builder at heart.
And he’s into drumming. And recently he started training in bass guitar and he is learning Japanese—he’s into everything Japanese. So, my daughter is into everything Korean, and my son is into everything Japanese. And I just want to show you something. This is my son’s … Samurai sword.
PAM: Samurai sword? Katana?
DOLA: Yes. It’s a katana. So that’s how interested he is in everything Japanese. All of us love food. So, we keep experimenting with cooking different kinds of food. And I am a storyteller. I do a lot of storytelling and a bunch of other things like holding circles where we share and listen on various different topics, could be parenting, could be feminism, could be a poetry, could be just about emotions and feelings, sexuality, a whole lot of things. So, these are the things that we do as a family right now.
PAM: Wow, that sounds amazing. I love that. And so many little connections came up. You mentioned before the call started that you guys were watching a recording of the Grammy’s, that ties right into that love of music that I hear with them. The Japanese, the weapons, my son who is very into martial arts has done a lot of weapons training and stuff. So that’s super cool too. And I’ve seen some videos of your storytelling, which is amazing. So, I’m going to share some of those in the show notes.
DOLA: Okay. That’s nice. Yeah. Yeah, of course. It’s absolutely fine. Oh, and by the way, I’m also a big crochet person. I got into crochet about two years back and, and then it’s like something that I keep doing all the time in between everything else that I do, there’s always crocheting on my fingers and I just pick them up and I start doing. So that’s, that’s another thing that is my passion lately. Do a bit of gardening on my terrace, try to grow things as naturally as possible.
PAM: It’s so fun. I mean that’s what I love about the snapshot is just seeing how all these things weave together. Because all those interests are respected inside your home and, and they all weave together. Like you said, the crochet just picks up, which reminded me that Lissy recently learned how to crochet.
She has been knitting for most of her life, and she’s making a big blanket now, but then when she was home for Christmas, she got Joseph interested in crocheting, so you know, he’s gotten stuff too, and may be picking it up.
It’s really fun just to have something in your hands. And I love how hearing about other people’s interests and things that are weaving through their lives, just sparks other ideas for other people. You can see all the little bits. It’s so fun.
How did you discover unschooling and what did your family’s move to unschooling look like?
DOLA: I think when we became parents. So, Gourika was adopted and she’s my first one. And then, you know what, I must say something first. People always say, “You don’t send your children to school? How brave of you!” I say, “You are brave sending your children to school. I’m not! I’m not brave.”
She went to school, kindergarten and it always broke my heart to send her off in the morning. And yet at that time, I didn’t know there were other options and choices, but I did always feel that this doesn’t seem the right thing to do. I think both their father and I kept questioning for the next two, three years of Gourika’s schooling, thinking this is not what we want. We want something else. So, there would be problems with the whole separation anxiety and then the toilet training bit. And then everything was a preparation for finally going to a big school and fitting in and all about falling in line.
We were looking for other options, but we didn’t know where to look. There were homeschoolers in India, but I didn’t know much. I think because we were looking it came.
I feel that after so many years of unschooling and living on that path of that which we seek comes to us, a faith and a trust in that. Now I feel because we were seeking very intently, it came to us. And it came to us in the most magical way.
A friend of his actually said, “Oh, you know what? My sister-in-law homeschools.” I said, “Oh, wow, we’re meeting them.” And we went all the way to another city to meet these people. And they were Christian homeschoolers.
But I think meeting her gave me that choice that, ‘Okay, I can also do this.’ So, it was the summer holidays, and after the summer holidays, Gourika never went to school. So, this was when she was six years old and she was out of school. I started to first sit with the curriculum and I felt, even this doesn’t seem right because like, “What are we doing?”
For the first time in my life, I went to school myself, but for the first time in my life, because I was looking at it from the outside and not as a student myself, or a teacher myself, I could see the futility of it all. And I felt that, no. If we are not to send them to school, there is another way.
And when that question came up, I met unschoolers. I met Urmila Samson and she had grown up kids and then I met Hema and it was like an instant thing that ‘Yes, this is what I’d been looking for all my life, in fact, since I was a kid.’
That was like how we launched ourselves into unschooling. And for me it was a very easy, I don’t know how but to just completely give into unschooling was very easy, not so much for Raja, their dad. It took him many, many years to be at peace with it. He still has his angst and fears around it, but now the kids are kind of able to hold forth for that and they’re much more confident in unschooling.
So yeah. That’s how he started unschooling.
PAM: That sounds so familiar. I didn’t know about homeschooling. I had never heard of it when my oldest two were in school, so my oldest was nine when I first heard the term homeschooling and started looking into it and they were home for March break.
And it’s, it was like, ‘Oh, hey, why don’t we give this a try and just, just see what happens?!’ They just didn’t go back. But then so quickly you discover unschooling, when you’re looking at the styles of homeschooling, and it just speaks to you because so often, especially if our kids have been at school and we’ve been asking all those questions. And, we’ve done the journey so far. We just didn’t know what was possible.
As soon as we heard about it and heard it described, it was like coming home almost.
DOLA: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
PAM: That’s not the end of the journey though, right? Then it’s learning so much about how that works in our lives. And I think one of the challenges of that deschooling time can be that navigating of having set goals and expectations for our children. Because that’s another piece that, as we get into it, we start to learn to question, and we play that alongside, still staying engaged with them and aware of what they’re doing and supporting them on their journey as it unfolds. That’s a bit of a dance, isn’t it?
DOLA: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Since Gourika was six years and Ishaan was what, six minus four is two. Since then, I understood that unschooling is not homeschooling. And I also, at that point in time, I also felt, as I spoke to a lot of people in India and I was on the online forums of Sandra and some other people, I felt that there are certain kinds of people, I’m not putting it as we are unique or we are something great and we are awesome, but I feel, there are certain kinds of people who can unschool, who take to unschooling much easier than others. And I think, for me, it was easier to take this as an exploratory journey, like this is an adventure we are exploring. I don’t know the answers. I don’t know where we are going with it.
And am I willing to put everything on hold and not control? And I’m not saying that. The thoughts of controlling would often come up. But every time I let go of that, something beautiful happened.
So, goals like wanting to read and write and learn math and things like that. It was really hard to not step in and teach them and to really trust and I have to thank the moms and dads who were already ahead on that journey. It’s not that I couldn’t do it all by myself, but there were examples all the time, I was reading about other people’s unschooling journey.
And I was, I think I was, a good student of unschooling. I think I’m a good student. So, I said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to trust this.’ It’s hard because everyone is constantly telling you, “Oh my gosh, he is eight years old. Can’t read. She’s 10 years old. Can’t do this.” I said, “It’s all going to be fine. We’ll see.”
It’s so natural, learning to read and write for both my kids now, it feels like like breathing. I don’t think I sat and taught them. I just supported them. So, every time, both my children wanted to type in something on the keyboards and they asked me how to spell it, I think every time I did that. I would tell them, okay, this is “F this is U, this is N. Fun.” You know, whatever words they wanted to know.
I don’t even know how they learned it, actually. I don’t know. What’s the process? It’s different for each kid. About interests, so every time the children got interested in something, I did see that the thought would creep into my head that maybe this is what they are going to do for the rest of their life. I can say my son is into this. And then after a few days, am I interested in this anymore? And so, yeah.
My children taught me, hang on, let go of these goals and dreams and ambitions. Let us just enjoy things in the moment. And it’s very strange that even though both my kids without any goals imposed on them, their learning and their interests and their passions have had a kind of thread. Which meandered and became like a zigzag puzzle, and there’s a thread.
It’s different for both of them. But I clearly see that, and I don’t know what it is going to lead to, but it doesn’t matter because the learning is not linear out here, this is what I’ve understood, that it’s kind of all over the place, but there’s a thread connecting everything.
So, I began to relax and realized, I think one or two years down the line, that the journey is the goal. You know, this thread, whatever the tread is weaving every time. That is the goal. It’s not going to reach anywhere, and maybe it will, maybe it will not. But yeah, we are having fun on the way!
PAM: That was so beautiful, Dola. I love the way you described it, and you know, I loved hearing that the same kinds of stories from all over the world. It’s a human story, I think.
Yeah. And it’s so true that you can see the thread connecting. So many of the choices they’ve made, the things they’ve done, the interests, the passions, when you look back there is a thread, yet in the moment is where you trust.
Because sometimes, maybe even oftentimes you can’t see exactly how they got to where they are in this moment. But trusting that. Trusting that when you look back on it, it’s going to be there, the jigsaw puzzle is going to start to fill in. That’s why when people come to unschooling, you know it’s not, I love, we say both things, right?
It’s an adventure. We’re going to explore and see how it goes. It’s not, this is what we’re going to do for the rest of our life. Things can change, choices can change, et cetera, but you need a good chunk of time. I like to suggest at least a year and like you said, a year or two, I would say two years was solid for me.
You need that time to work through releasing those controlling thoughts and get enough experience that you start to see that thread. That’s how your trust grows, being able to trust them right in that moment. When you can see that thread. It’s beautiful isn’t it? I have goosebumps.
DOLA: What I realized that all I had to do was stay engaged and be present and not judge any of their interests as better than the other, or higher than the other, or lower than the other, or this is more significant of a passion than this is.
So, every interest, every passion was looked at as equally significant and equally big.
All I had to do is stay present and value that. Value that interest, value, that passion, even if it is a curiosity, which lasts just two days. But it’s something that I wanted to stay present to. And I still do that. Of course, when they were younger, it was much more hands on, now they’ve learned to stay present to their needs much more so and yet all I feel I’m doing as an unschooling mom is staying present and engaged to things popping up in their heads and their hearts and their worlds, in their minds. And I’m saying all I do, but it’s not really all I do because it’s a lot of work. I was watching The Crown on Netflix and at one point, the queen mother tells Queen Elizabeth that the hardest thing to do is not to give your opinion, not to say something when you can, but you choose to stay silent and it takes so much of strength from within to hold yourself from controlling the situation. And I felt like, ‘Yes, that’s what I do mostly, and that’s being present to what’s going on around me with the kids, whether it’s their passions, interest, emotions, feelings, just being present.’
And it’s really the crux of unschooling for me. And staying present at the same time, to doubts and fears that come inside me as well. Staying present to that too.
PAM: Yeah. There’s that piece, right? Because keeping our opinions to ourselves and being present. Because opinions, when you start looking at it and looking at conversations, you can see how often the things we might say can come across as controlling, even if we aren’t meaning that. Because what we’re reacting to, like you said before, keeping interests having the same amount of significance. Because if we continually react to certain kinds of interests, we are just giving them the message that those interests are more important.
So, that is such a huge piece. I remember when I had the revelation, I wrote it on my blog years ago. I may have my 2 cents to share but so often by not sharing it and keeping my 2 cents to myself, things went in so many other interesting directions that I couldn’t have even dreamed of.
That’s what you gained through the experience as well, by giving them time and looking back at the thread, trusting that where they’re weaving their thread is as cool and likely more cool than the direction we might have steered them intentionally or not by sharing our opinions.
That’s not at all about, not being ourselves, which is what you were going for, right. When you were saying, we still have our reservations and our thoughts, but it’s letting them have their moments. So often when they come to talk to us and they share exciting things, it’s not because they’re looking for feedback or directions because they’re excited and they want to share with us.
That’s how we’ve learned so much about that.
DOLA: The whole excitement of finding new things and sharing that and that I’m their mom. I have something to say. Even if it’s just a little bit of information about history or geography or some building there, or some music group in Korea, or the backend story, or it’s like a wide spectrum of things and they’re excited and I need to be present to that excitement.
PAM: So yeah, that way they feel seen and they feel heard and they’re excited to move on to the next thing. It’s like they’re checking in emotionally with us and sharing those pieces.
And the great thing is too, when we realize that we can do that with them as well. When they’re passing by you can show them the crocheting, “Look how much progress I made last night!”
DOLA: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. Yes,
PAM: It becomes just a whole lifestyle for the whole family. It’s not just for the kids.
DOLA: Yeah. Yeah, it’s really mutual because they’re growing up seeing the respect and the space that is being given to them and therefore, I am watching that they’re doing the same, not just to me, but to a lot of other people who are connected with our lives.
So, there is a difference in the quality of the presence that they offer. And to the world.
PAM: Yeah, it is. It is really, really noticeable.
Another topic that often comes up in unschooling circles that I wanted to touch on with you is a concern around screen time, and you mentioned Ishaan is very much into gaming and on his computer a lot, so I would love to hear a bit about your experience with that.
DOLA: Well. Yeah. So, the thing with screen time is that, every homeschooling gathering that I go to, every meeting that I’m called to, every time parents want to meet me, their biggest concern is the internet and the screen. So, there’s this whole fear around it, and that internet and screen is going to offer a lot of dark stuff to your children and they’re going to be sucked into it and their minds will get spoiled and things like that.
But for me, it’s been just a joyous experience. Because the day I came to know about unschooling and I realized that everything in this world is a resource for joy, fun and learning, I didn’t feel that there needed to be a separation from one thing to the other.
And also, maybe because even though we went to school as children, in our house, in our family, there was actually no parental control on watching stuff on television. Free cable TV days, we didn’t have much shows on TV, but we did watch. And I grew up in the middle East, so, we did see a lot of American shows and British shows and even Indian stuff.
There was never any judgment from my parents on what we watched on television. And there was always a certain kind of self-regulation that came within us. I don’t know how. Maybe because we were never told, “Don’t watch this, watch this.” It was always only fun and joyous things that we were watching because television for us was about joy.
It was about fun, it was about the family sitting together and watching me and my sister watching the Jack busters and the top ten, you know? So, it was always about joy. So, I think I had a different experience growing up as a child. And for me it was not so difficult to let both my children explore the whole world of internet and television and cinema.
I, myself, find the internet so fascinating because there’s so much that I’ve learned and I know about the world. I have so much fun. All my crochet I have learned from the internet. My mom is a great crochet person, but I think I never learned from her. I learned from internet may because I’m a self-learner.
I need to learn by myself. So, when somebody teaches me, I find it sometimes hard to learn certain things. I’ve seen my mother now, she’s 70 years old and she’s been taking care of my dad for a long time before he passed away last year. She has found so much from internet.
A lot of discourses that she listens to, a lot of craft that she has picked up because my mom’s always this crafty person and she’s learning new craft all the time. A lot of craft, a lot of self- healing, herbs and making oils and making pastes that she wants to do for her hair and for a skin. So, I think for my children, I mean the whole world has come to them through internet and cinema and television. And a lot of children go from books still cinema. My children have gone from cinema to books. I remember a lot of judgment about, “Oh, your kids don’t read books. They don’t read story books. They don’t read novels.”
I read to them a lot when they were children. A lot. I have read to them, but when they outgrew that, they didn’t really pick up a book to read. They read on the internet, they read things which interested them because it related to a passion for them. And today my daughter’s reading Murakami, which is complex stuff.
She has not gone through the usual, Nancy Drew and the usual teenage stuff or light books. She moved straight into complex books. Which I found very fascinating. And my son, of course, he’s completely into the whole fantasy thing. He’s currently reading Tolkien which also has come because of his love for the film, Lord of the Rings.
And he’s a complete Star Wars fan. And I’ve seen that his interest in Star Wars has gotten him interested in the universe and the planets and the galaxies and the science of cosmos and everything.
I can go on and on. It’s crazy how they have been using the internet as a resource to understand and see the world and to have fun and learn from it. And I, I don’t know what’s the fear because I didn’t see anything fearful of, because I think both the kids, both my children were always coming from a place of joy. And I always feel when you come from a place of joy, everything that comes to you is also joyous.
That’s how I saw the internet because I thought I felt that for them, joy is a big factor and they’re exploring everything that gives them joy. So, I don’t ever see it as a fearful option. And that’s what I always tell parents when they ask me.
PAM: Yeah, I think so often it’s our fear that we’re bringing to it. And I think it might be an interesting piece, when we were talking about being engaged with them, in that, without that engagement, the fear comes in. I find when we talk about screens too, if we talk about them as “screens”, that is a step of disengagement right there.
Because like you said, those are just the resources. Those are just the tools to find the things. It is an amazing tool because there are just so many things that you can explore, the whole world and, and you’re doing different things. When you talk about screens, you’re lumping together all sorts of different tools, from phones to computers to tablets to, and then you’re just calling them all screens. So, when somebody is asking you question like that, I wonder how engaged they are with their child. What it is that they’re doing with those screens because a better question is always, “My child was interested in this and they’re watching a lot of this, or they’re going to this site a lot.”
Those are more concerns if you want to talk to people about their experiences with particular things or particular websites, forums, whatever, but when they’re saying screen, then it feels like they’re not quite yet. They can go a step deeper with their child.
They’re not as engaged with their child to know how their child’s using that tool. That’s where you can connect with them. That’s where those conversations live.
That’s what you can be excited about. Like you said, again, not judging aninterest when they come in, they’re like, “Mom, I’m having so much fun with Fortnite.” You can say, “What are you loving about it?
DOLA: Yeah, absolutely. Yes. And this whole thing about taking screen as some kind of a thing that is outside your life and it’s as if your child is going out of life towards this whole thing called “screen” which is like a huge demon or a monster sitting in a cave and your child is visiting it every day. It’s not like that. It’s not like that for us. For us. It’s like life. It’s not separated from what we do every day. It’s not a thing that you go do to escape from something. It’s not something that you go do when you’re done doing other things.
It’s part of the whole soup. Yeah. So, when it’s part of the whole soup, I’m going to pick it up like this, and no, actually we’re relishing that bit too, because it’s part of the ingredients. It’s the ingredient that’s making the soup. So, absolutely right Pam, engaging and being present to everything that’s in that soup called unschooling.
And therefore, screen time is not something that is like a slice of the pie, which you get now and then. It is the whole slice. It’s the whole pizza actually. So, I find the idea of screen time too much, screen time less, but I don’t see it as screen time. I just see it as what we are doing with that time.
PAM: Yeah. I love that. And you know what I love you mentioned at the beginning how much you guys love cooking and food, and I love your food metaphors, pizzas and pies. It’s like, that’s perfect.
DOLA: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
PAM: No, that was, that was so, so well explained. It is. It’s just part of our life. It’s not something separate.
I think when you start engaging more with your kids around what they’re doing with those tools, that’s when it becomes more part of your life. You don’t see them as leaving you to go do something else. Just part of the soup. I love that.
For me, I’m one of the biggest surprises and joys of unschooling, turned out to be having these large swaths of free time at our disposal for us to use, because when we started, I did not realize how much open ended time would be so well spent by slowing down and being with my kids at their pace. I thought, Oh, we’re going to be doing this. We’ll be able to go to this museum and, and this and, you know, go to this park and just do 1,000,001 things. Because now with school out of the picture, we could do all these other fun things. But when we took that time to slow down and, and do the things that they were drawn to and do them at their pace. That was another big thing. Whether it was the time to explore their interests, which may be home-based for a long time, or maybe we go to the museum and we are in the same room for three hours because they’re really into something there or whether it was just exploring their feelings, having a bad day and being able to spend that time with them as they work their way through it.
That was a huge surprise, but it ended up being one of the very important aspects, I think, of our unschooling lives. So, I was wondering if that was your experience with time as well. I’d love to hear a bit more about
DOLA: Yeah. So, I think for the longest time we were pretty much home. Still we do that. So, for us, home became a place where we explored our relationship with time itself. I remember reading a book long time ago, I’m very bad at remembering names of books. I remember the essence of what I read. Anyway, so there was this book in which there was something written about what the author called Einstein Time. And I said, ‘Okay, what is this Einstein Time?’ I know about Einstein and relativity, and that time is relative. But what he talked about as Einstein Time is, when people say, time is running out, or you’re racing against time and time is everything that you got, so don’t waste it, and blah, blah, blah—this guy said, but you can always step into Einstein Time. Einstein Time is when time stretches for you. When you are doing something that you like, and that’s when we realized that, ‘Oh, we have all the time in the world because we are only going to be doing what we want to do. And what we really like!’ And if that means just curling up on your bed and just listening to your favorite music or looking at something on your iPad or on your phone or on the laptop or movie, or binge-watching some cartoon or some series, that’s fine.
I mean, my son, when he was younger, he would spend hours just bathing in the rubber pool. He would just sit there with his ship and his stories, and he’d make up these stories about the pirates because he was heavily into Pirates of the Caribbean at that time.
And then there were times when the whole house was turned into a museum. Every table, top, every bed top, every couch top was used to display things. And they would just labeled each section as this is, this is for “Trains and Engines”, this is for “Aircraft”, this is for “Dinosaurs”. And then some days the whole living room would be a set right out of Titanic where they’re playing the whole Titanic sinking, and then they’re saving people.
Sometimes all the chairs would be lined up to become an aircraft and they’re flying the plane. I mean, it’s countless, such days and moments. And even today, they do go for their classes and knowledge that they have chosen but most of the rest of the time we are mostly at home in our own zones doing our own things and constantly meeting each other and overlapping each other. And like you said, I think with unschooling I had, I as a mother had so much time at hand. So much more time at hand to start exploring new things for myself.
I started on a whole new journey when I started unschooling my kids. I became a different person over the years, you know? And I realize that the quality of the presence that I was able to give my children and the presence that they gave me, stretched time. It became elastic and we could stretch it as much as we wanted to.
And then of course, not having strict schedules of sleeping and eating and all that also freed us up so much more because then we could always catch up on things that we really love doing and not get bound by these bedtimes and wake up times and mealtimes. So, I think for us, time became something that we would bend to our advantage rather than us being slaves to time.
PAM: I love that description. I love that phrase Einstein’s Time.
DOLA: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
And a lot of lot of parents do ask me, especially the ones who have just started, “When do I get me time?” I said, “See, it’s the same thing as screen time because me time is not something that you escape to. You find me time in the we time because I am in the midst of it all and yet I am doing what I want to do.” And that is something so fascinating for me in my unschooling journey.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah.
DOLA: It’s just all woven into each other and it’s not like I have to pull myself away to have me time for myself.
PAM: Exactly. That’s what I love about thinking about the time aspect of unschooling, because like I said, at first I was surprised at how useful but how valuable, how joyful. Just having stretches of time to bend to our will really and how those days flow. Again, you need that time that first year or two to really dive in and gain that experience, so that you’ve had the experience of being able to look back at the threads you’ve had, the experience of everybody sinking into their flow and coming and going. Because not every day goes smoothly. Life happens, the whole thing you hear, “Well, your life’s perfect. Then how are they going to learn that things go wrong?” Well, because things go wrong, things happen in life, and we also flow together through that, and we work and help each other and figure things out together through all those moments.
But that’s beauty of giving yourself a swath of time to look back on and see how it works, to see how time actually flows.
PAM: How we flow through it when we don’t put in a lot of external schedules on top of it that aren’t chosen.
Before our call, when we connected, you mentioned the value of being aware of indoctrination while parenting our kids, so I’d love to hear your thoughts around that.
DOLA: Yeah. Well, in the, in the last 12 years that I’ve been in this on various forums in India, homeschooling, unschooling, well, I found it mostly difficult to find a lot of people who are willing to take that jump into unschooling, there are more homeschoolers here.
There’s a lot of indoctrination happening when you’re doing school at home anyway. But I’m leaving that out because that’s a whole different topic. Even in an unschooling sometimes, it’s there. So in relation to India, I’m going to talk about indoctrination because I really don’t know how it is there.
But here I find a lot of people saying that they’re unschooling, but what they really mean is that our children don’t go to school. There’s still a lot of, I call it indoctrination, not just in religious terms, but in other ways. Like this kind of food is good. This kind of food is bad. This kind of clothing is good, that kind of clothing is bad. Living in nature’s good and living in cities is bad. There’s this judgment of polarizing things. In almost every aspect of living. Learn to speak one’s mother tongue, not just a foreign language. First you need to learn your mother tongue.
There is so many different types of indoctrination that happens. I’ve observed that for a long time. And I really feel that it’s subtly and almost blatantly controlling the minds of your children and not allowing your child to form his or her own perspective on things.
I find this fascinating in my family because we are pretty much an urban family. We live in a city. I have lived in a rural place when I was a kid, but then mostly again in cities and pretty much aware of climate change and global warming. And I know all that. I talk about it also at home. But what I find fascinating is that my son, he has a completely different view, so he’s like, “Yes. I know what you’re saying. It is true. The crisis is real, but I have faith in human intelligence and I know that we are going to find a way out of this.” So, I can keep indoctrinating him and say, “No, this is the end and you have to stop this, stop this, stop this.”
But then I wonder that if I do this, am I actually cutting off a certain intelligence or possibility that there is another reality. There is another way of looking at things and maybe just maybe these kids are seeing something that we are not seeing. And for me, therefore, to be aware of every indoctrination that I do is very important.
It’s not that it doesn’t come up for me. I want to sometimes say that, it’s almost gone now because over the years you learn to deschool. But I feel that this awareness is so important while unschooling because it’s important in parenting as such, but then we can’t do anything about it.
I can only talk about unschooling. Are we willing to trust that these kids, if not told that this is better than that, or this is good and this is bad and this is the way to go? If we stopped doing this and just let be things the way they are, maybe just, maybe they might just figure out a very different reality and possibility and can we trust that?
And we stay open to that whole field of the unknown. And possibilities. For me, that’s very, very vital in my journey as an unschooler.
That that is a great way to describe it. I think. Because again, back to that line that we dance. So, it’s not that we give up our beliefs and our perspective on the world and on humanity and people and all those bigger picture things. It’s just not indoctrinating or passing those onto our kids as if those are the right answer, the only answer. It’s in conversations, like you said, we share and that’s a dance. You can tell when you’re oversharing or sharing too frequently in that they’re starting to feel a pressure from it. That’s your clue in the dance to step back, getting a little bit too tight, a little bit too close there because when you go to that place, then it becomes more about, instead of the topic, it becomes more about needing to resist your parents’ pressure from that. Even if it begins to feel like pressure, and then it’s more about escaping the pressure than it is about the topic. And that’s the other cool thing, watching them over the years, you can see how over how their thoughts have changed.
PAM: Topics over time as they get more experience, whether they actually ever shared the same view as you. But you can see how they’re learning, thinking things through, changing their opinions, tweaking their thoughts. And that’s where the trust is, knowing that they are their own person in this world. I want them to figure out how to find their way through it. Because you know what? I might not be there to tell them the “right” way.
DOLA: Exactly. Exactly. For me it’s more about letting their minds and hearts be a fallow in that sense where seeds that need to grow can grow on their own time. It’s so much about the way natural farming is done where you actually don’t interfere much and you just sit back and observe nature, take care of things.
And I don’t know why we separate ourselves, human beings from nature, because I feel I am nature. I feel my children are nature. So why are we, why am I separating my children from that plant that I’m nurturing in my garden because they too are part of that garden and there is an inherent intelligence which I need to trust and not tamper around with it too much.
Of course, we see the whole world is throwing views and perspectives and ideas and opinions at them. I know that I’m not trying to shield them from it either. But that’s all I, I feel all that is in some ways the raw material, the ingredients, the nutrients that they need that, the garden, that their heart and their mind is. It’s all needed and something is going to form and I, I just want to witness it, rather than controlling.
PAM: Yeah. Witness is a great word. And then the other piece we were talking, engaging with them around, not controlling, because then if you’re, if the other thing you’re doing, if you’re putting pressure on them, coming to your views, what you’re also doing is putting a bit of distance there.
You’re putting a bit of a wall because they’re not going to want to come and share their opinion or their thoughts, their perspective in a moment when they know you’re going to push back on it. They don’t want to get into that conversation. So now you’re one less person that they can engage with as they are working through and figuring stuff out.
DOLA: Yeah. It’s something that I want to add. A lot of people think that it’s all hands off, but that’s not how it is. It’s really about engaging. They’re engaging with the world. I am engaging with the world, and then we’re engaging with each other and we are just engaging with each other and being present to whatever is wanting to happen in that space.
So, it’s not like I’m just relaxed and sleeping and they’re just alone, it’s not like that. It’s a lot of engagement really, watching and observing and responding. I think the right word is responding rather than reacting. And that’s the key word. I think I’m responding to their engagement.
PAM: Yeah. And that’s why it’s so important to be engaged and in the moment so that you can you best have a feel for what’s going on.
You know them, you know what they’re interested in as in you can gage with them, where they are. So, you need to be present to respond in the way that works for you both in relation and like you said, each child is different, so the way you respond is different.
You mentioned unschooling in India and I just wanted to touch on that for a little bit. You were involved in creating the first homeschooling conference in India. Yes. Hema mentioned that. So how have things grown since then?
DOLA: Um, Oh, I think. The conferences, it started as a conference and then I think a bunch of people, including me thought why are we calling it a conference? Can we call it the gathering so it kind of changed over a few years. I have not been so actively involved in it. I was involved the first three years. Then I took a step back because I realized the need is so much more for homeschooling than unschooling. And it was not resonating with what I needed and what I could give.
And so, I slowly stepped out of it. But the gathering still happens every year. My work is completely focused on unschooling. So, I just took it all to another platform. And wherever I get a chance, I talk about unschooling.
My email is out there on, in the public domain. I have a Facebook page, a Facebook group, where we talk about unschooling. I go to the gathering when I feel like going, and I make it very clear that I’m going to talk about unschooling. So those who feel called, they come and we talk about it, if we explore it together. I would say the whole exponential increase in interest in people to explore learning without school. So, whether it is homeschooling or unschooling numbers have definitely grown over the last 10, 12 years and there are a lot more people wanting to explore raising children without school. And how they do it is different for everyone. But that’s a large, significant change that I see.
And it’s not a shocker when you say, “Oh no, they don’t go to school.” You hear, “Ah, yeah, I read about it. It was there in one of the newspapers.” So, it’s kind of in the public collective consciousness now. But then India is such a diverse country and a whole segment of this country feels, getting a school education is their pathway to employment and job.
So, I don’t really advocate for it in India. They saying that this is the way to educate your children, and this is the way. I don’t do that because there is a whole large segment of the society, of the culture of the population for whom a school is their only way to aspire for a better life.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. I have never taken to the term advocate. Because it’s only about knowing there’s a choice. Like you said earlier, it’s not for all families. It’s not for all parents. I mean, if parents want to do it, I think it can work for all kids, just because the point of unschooling is to work with your kid, and help them accomplish whatever it is that they’re wanting to accomplish.
But it’s a lifestyle for the parents who want to live that lifestyle for their families. So, I don’t ever like to think of it as telling. If people ask, I want to let them know the possibilities exist. The first time I came across the word homeschooling and went “What the heck is that?” You know what I mean? If they’re curious and they want to learn more, I love to talk.
DOLA: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I consciously stay away from getting into this whole discussion and debate on a school versus no school, because that’s not what, that’s not why I am doing this.
It’s a lifestyle choice for me.
It’s like anything else, like making a choice where I want to live, making a choice about what food I want to eat, making a choice about the skincare product that I’m going to use or how I want my hair style or who am I going to marry? What kind of relationships I’m going to have? So, these are for me, very core choices, and it really has nothing to do with an ideology or some kind of something that I want to indoctrinate people with.
PAM: I just wrote an answer this morning to someone saying I did not come to choosing unschooling through any political viewpoint. Because that was kind of a slant of the question. It wasn’t an ideology that I was trying to forward. It was a matter of what kind of parent do I want to be? What kind of family do I want to create?
DOLA: Yes. Right.
PAM: That’s what led me there versus any kind of outside indoctrination.
So, what is your favorite thing about your unschooling days right now?
DOLA: The favorite thing right now is that my children are far more independent than they were at one time. So, they’re able to make their own snacks. They can take care of their meals at times, and they’re pretty much, especially my older one, is, moving around on her own. I don’t have to do the picking and dropping and driving them around. So, that gives me a lot more, a time for myself. So that’s something that is good for me.
But what is really interesting about where we are as a family right now is watching my daughter because she’s turned 18 in November. And she’s just wanting to explore so much. And she’s really pushing herself there and trying out different things. She’s going out there, connecting with people. And this is from someone who, for the longest time, felt she was shy and that she had social anxiety and that, meeting people was difficult for her.
Plus, to watch someone like her exploring, being out there and being on several social network groups and things like that and even doing all the inquiries that she needs to do for her own the courses that she needs to take. So, I think to see that is fascinating for me because I think what really mattered was that I was present and she was also present to herself and I was present to her.
In whatever phase that she went through, without wanting to turn the tables or without wanting to make it different, or it’s just accepting that that’s how it was. Now it’s this new way and we don’t know what will come next. So, I think for me to watch my daughter spreading her wings is something fascinating for me.
And my son is finding that when he, likes something a lot. How he finds the time for it, like the discipline that he is instilling in himself. To watch that is fascinating. And there is so much more. What fascinates me about my son now is that he stands there in his power and says, “No, mom, I don’t think you’re right.”
And he so calmly explains his point of view. Sometimes when I’m losing it, but he’s not, he’s talking as if he’s on some diplomatic mission with a lot of diplomacy, a lot of calm. So that really fascinates me. And I think it was a different thing when they were younger and now that they’re all kind of growing up, it’s a completely different journey because we are emotionally also on a different level of connecting.
Even with my daughter, because she’s 18, and she’s exploring so many things and emotions and relationships, I find it so fascinating because I am talking to her like another woman. And that’s really fascinating for me. Yes, there is the mother and daughter, but there’s also this, thing about a younger woman and an older woman, we are bonding about stuff and that’s interesting.
PAM: Yeah. Yeah. I love it. They’re just fascinating as people, as human beings. Our kids, I love that word fascinating because it’s so true. It’s just so curious and interesting to see the choices that they’re making in their lives and how valuable it is to let them go at their own pace.
Like you talked about their own phases, rather than us worrying or trying to put some sort of time table on it. They get the places they want to go when they get there. And it’s always valuable to them where they are. They’re there for their own reasons. So, it’s just so fun to see how they blossom and in what directions.
And I love that other piece that you talked about, the difference as they get older. Because when they’re younger it’s a lot more about the doing, it’s a lot more hands on. I think a lot more about getting them places, doing things, sharing thing, looking things up. You know, it’s a lot of that.
Whereas they get older, there is a much more emotional aspect now. They’re more exploring the kind of person they want to be, how to learn and figure out the things they want to learn.
They have taken over. So, now our conversations start to morph into more philosophical talks, emotional talks.
DOLA: Absolutely. Absolutely. That’s true. That’s how it is for us.
PAM: Well, Dola, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. It was so much fun. I really appreciate.
DOLA: Yeah, it was fun for me too!
PAM: Before we go, can you let people know where they can connect with you online?
DOLA: Yeah. So, I have an email ID, which is a DolaDG at gmail dot com I have a Facebook page, which is my timeline, which is Dola Dasgupta and, I moderate a Facebook group, which is called Unschooling in India: Share, ask, reflect.
PAM: Excellent. Yeah, so I will put links to that in the show notes if anybody would like to connect with there.
And thanks again. Have a wonderful evening.
DOLA: Thank you. Yes, I will. Thanks a lot. Bye. Bye.