Letter from Claude Alvares, Multiversity

Why parents and educators should consider a “gap year” for their children…


One of the emotions we experienced as (“highly educated”) parents was the overall negative impact of the schooling system on our three boys. We found they were happiest when out of school. If it had not been for the compulsion, they would rarely have gone to school. At some stage, youngsters placed in such a situation – not just for a year but for an almost never ending decade – can experience a need to be set free from it all, for some time at least.

We discovered that the school never provided our kids with the opportunities to do the things they wanted to do or which gave them greatest pleasure. The school did not concern itself with their need to uncover and develop their own identity or personality. If any activity – whether or not desireable – was unrelated to the textbooks prescribed for them, according to the school it had no learning potential and for this reason was to be firmly set aside.

So when each of our kids completed school (either at the 10th or 12th), we set them free from all bonds for a full year. They would use the time to discover themselves, their likes and dislikes, with absolutely no compulsion or driving from our side. Basically, we wanted to ensure they got time – without the pressure of another year of study, or another examination around the corner – to come to terms with their own existence, what it meant to live in a society or country, explore its environment, interact with people of all ages, experience and expertise, and to consciously understand the idea that self-imposed discipline (swa-raj) is an inherent part of being creative and free.

All three experiments worked out satisfactorily. Each boy bounded out of the cage that school had become to explore total freedom. In the process, they slowly but unmistakably discovered their innate capabilities and developed these to use them as the basis for good, creative and satisfying work.

After the gap year, they found they had developed an ambivalent attitude towards the idea of going to college. They registered for graduation, but with our support kept to their own work and learning schedules. They discovered for themselves that the stuff they teach you in school and college may perhaps help you get a conventional job, but may not necessarily provide you with the vast resources that life makes available to human beings who have tasted freedom.

When the principal of the college called us for discussions because our sons could not be found in class or were located more frequently in the college canteen, we reassured him that our sons were disinterested in superior grades because they had their own schemes and were working those. Once the principal found the parents had no tension on this issue, they were much relieved and felt a burden had been lifted off their shoulders. We were never called by the principal again.

As parents, we do recognise that there are reasons why adults feel compelled to send their kids to school. We did so ourselves. But having done so, we say give the children a break – at least for a year – from the punishing and depressing schedules of these institutions. During that break, their “learning” from textbooks might decline. However, their conscious experiencing of life’s processes, social activity, personal sense of worth, capacity and responsibility will expand to its limits. The joy they will experience will be boundless. They will never be the same again.

In the case of our three sons, all chose independent careers which they created out of thin air. The first became a self-trained herpetologist, wrote a book at 16 called Free from School and followed it up with another book, The Call of the Snake. Free from School has inspired hundreds of other parents to take it easy on their kids as well.

The second son turned out to be a self-trained musician, while the third self-trained himself into an apple-computer expert by the age of 18.

In all three cases, it is the gap year which gave them the time they needed to think and decide wisely. Compare them before that to kids drowning under a regime of academic studies poured relentlessly down their throats, almost choking them. After the gap year, they were no longer gasping for air and had learnt in addition to fly, on their own, with marginal assistance from their parents. In fact, compared to other parents in similar circumstances, we emerged undebted to any banks or money-lenders for this manner of encouraging the children to grow needed only the very modest means available to ordinary middle class families in this country.

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Categories: Gap years, year off | Leave a comment

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