It is said that every day we make tremendous number of discoveries which all go unnoticed by us because we are so preoccupied with our daily routine. For instance, only whilst pondering regarding the beginning of my work life again did I realise/discover a very interesting facet of my life. That the decision to take time off in July, 2011 was the only one which was made by me without any outside pressures or conditioning! I deem it to be an exercise of pure volition.
This is not to say that every aspect of our lives is dependent or not dependent upon various social factors that surround us (I do not wish to make this into “Sociology 101” discourse!). What I simply figured was that as we grow up as kids in India in average urban middle and upper middle class families everything seems to be preordained for us by our families and the society. Study hard, good grades, 90% in Boards, good college, good grades again, good job, good salary and finally the process of settling down which includes getting married and having kids. Till the abovementioned processes have not been finished, we have been in bred with a guilty conscience regarding non-fulfilment of duties essential to our existence!
More or less I met with some of these abovementioned processes (can also be termed as expectations) albeit not always coming off as the perfect kid. I fondly remember the time when I got through National Law School, Bangalore amongst other law colleges and was suddenly deemed to be intelligent by various people who one day earlier would not have considered me to be so smart! Definitely it was redemption for a kid who belongs to a family of successful persons in the traditional sense of the word. I had messed up my 10th Boards and after interaction with my cousins who had begun this NGO called “Shikshantar” at that time, my need to prove myself in 12th Boards had in any case withered away. I had been enlightened regarding the tremendous faults in our great education system and any inclination to gain those studly 90% Board marks was nil (I also used this anecdote of screwing up in my Boards with great vehemence and pride later to tell others as to how less they mattered in the longer run once I was accepted in NLS). Little did I realise that time that entering into law school itself was not a free choice and expression of my interest but rather the desperate attempts of a kid who was unclear as to what life holds for him and merely joined an Institute, ironically, to prove himself to others.
After a life altering Law School experience, I decided to enter into litigation in Jaipur, Rajasthan- the great town of my birth! My sole infatuation with the law was due to its sheer ability to make a difference in the society. Being brought up within an atmosphere of idealism amongst people of such tremendous integrity had caused the same to become an inherent part of my psyche. Hence, despite all the cynical views which were poured over me, I decided that I should work in a smaller place over a big metro like Delhi and try to make a difference. Although what kind of difference I was looking to make, I was unsure of. It took a good one and a half years to get rid of that incredibly idealistic picture and allow disillusionment to complicate things in my life again. Yet again I enforced a choice which I believed would still be socially acceptable- which was to sign up for further studies in the Ivy League colleges in the US. What I wished to study or pursue further I was more or less uncertain about. Ah yes! I do remember that I wanted to have a comparative analysis of the judicial system in the two countries to understand how issues of delays in litigation can be dealt with better in India but whether I had read up sufficiently upon it or whether I was required to pursue a masters for such an analysis I was not sure of. I guess that reason came to my head just because I thought that well the only way to get out of the rut was to pursue masters.
While applying for the same, I became certain that this exercise in itself is also not that fruitful since my reasons for applying to me seemed frivolous. By the end of March, 2011, I was asked to decide regarding my future by various parties including my folks. I felt I needed more time. This uncertainty regarding my future plans somehow reminded me of the various activities I wished to pursue but had not been able to because of work and other factors. So I decided that before I join any active legal work, I should acquire certain new skills which I wished to at least pursue as hobbies throughout my life. Rock Climbing and Mountaineering were clear off-shoots of such an exploration and grew to be my passion.
When I do reflect upon the past nine months of life though I realise that my time away from the mainstream legal arena has in fact allowed me to gain a very different perspective regarding many things in life rather than a standardised perspective of a professional litigator. I tried my hand at not so mainstream activities (most people are yet to understand the difference between rock climbing and mountaineering!) and ended up interacting with people from diverse backgrounds. The reaction of most people from my field was of disbelief, bafflement and concealed contempt at my naivety in not realising the major advantage I was letting go of, or not exploiting, considering my family background. In fact I often faced subtle admonitions from many “well-wishers” about how its time I acquired some seriousness in life (effectively it implied I should get back to fulfilling mainstream expectations). In the beginning I made idiotic attempts at trying in vain to explain my predicament to people and my necessity for such a choice. However, soon wisdom dawned upon me and I would consider such remarks with quiet amusement grinning to my own self, trying to avoid my natural urge to argue, rationalise, debate upon the subject.
The surprising revelation was the sheer contentment and happiness I was experiencing in life. Many people who attempt to take such similar “breaks/year offs” tell me that they very soon get disgruntled and feel useless and unproductive and cannot wait to be back in the field. I however faced no such quandary. My daily schedule consisted of climbing et. el. till the afternoon, working out more to get in shape and then reading various books, playing with my dog, practising the guitar, learning to cook etc. I read a lot about nutrition, discovered a lot about my body’s limits. Life was amazing. There were many experiences which I cannot detail here which were quite incredible as they led to many other small discoveries on a daily basis.
I remember my interactions with my cousin Manish and his prodding me to in fact rediscover many aspects of life which I was missing out on. He would call it self-empowerment and base it upon the “Gandhian” way of life which was imbibed as per him in “Swaraj” and meant ensuring that we gain control of different aspects of our life rather than become the specialists that today’s modern life propagates. To know how to cook, do basic chores, basic medicine, using basic tools was essential for our very existence and led to a very satisfying experience. Such a way of life does not hold a very promising response from the mainstream society in terms of achievements. I had however, realised by now that the usual norms of success and satisfaction were not applicable to me! I couldn’t care much about gaining appreciation of peers considering my different outlook towards life and at the same time I dare not say that I was a rebel who was out of it all and needed no one’s concern. I merely wish to state that the futility of such false appreciation had dawned upon me and it had become increasingly obvious that it is most satisfying if you love what you do. The law was a tool I always considered to be of great importance to bring significant change in the society and may be it still is but not how I had perceived it to be.
I do remember that in the last few months when my deadline was coming closer, I had repeated, ominous reminders of the sword hanging on my head from many people. Considering my love for the lifestyle I had acquired, I also became very disturbed at my indecision regarding the more “practical choice” in life. Also after seeing lawyers to be yet another part of the system I felt cheated by the futility of it all. The inability to decide had led me to conclude the pointlessness of existence per se (I am glad I did not read more existential philosophy during this period!). I would question my every choice as being futile and useless and unsatisfactory. I would curse the lack of options when I was a kid- the lack of facilities, of infrastructure, of coaching which forced me into giving up my innate proclivity towards sports and physical exercise.
Many people told me to leave litigation as well and consider other options but the one which were recommended to me barely seemed like options. More importantly I also realised that I, all said and done, was cowardly and afraid. The rebel in me had limits. I was the “Steppenwolf” (suicidal but would never take the plunge!). I came to agree with the hard fact that I had become accustomed to a certain lifestyle and was unwilling to completely let go of it and my current lifestyle could not be sustained for long. Economic viability of any activity is ultimately a hard hitting factor which one has to consider – especially one who is not a complete rebel! I guess in many ways when one jokes about taking off into the hills, it is merely a half-wish the entire consequence of which no one wishes to bear. I must admit I never entirely gave a very serious thought to anything except the more pragmatic option of getting back to litigation which I did not completely abhor.
Today in March 2012, I have finally made the call of undertaking litigation under a lawyer in Delhi High Court after much consultation and much indecision (I am still unsure whether it’s a voluntary decision or a forced one due to the deadline which I had given everyone in my family to curb their anxieties and fears regarding my future!) It’s a lesson in life for us to understand that with the growth of options and choices today also arises the unsettling task of making those choices! Life for previous generations in many ways was simpler this way since there path was fixed for them by their forefathers.
Now that I am back into it, cynicism is an instinctive reaction, but I have learnt the importance of patience as well. In fact, when I look forward to it- many of my preconceived notions regarding how I shall proceed in the profession stand dispelled today. I am free of many prejudices I held due to this exposure I received in my life. The most refreshing bit is that I do not consider it a burden anymore. Plans which had been chalked out in my head for years to come have crumbled to make way for developing life on a more short term basis. I still think that my new endeavour is merely another temporary experience which will help me realise further what it is that I wish to pursue or rather experience in life. The last nine months though were truly remarkable in terms of the impact they have had – as Manish rightly told me- “do not call it a year-off- that would deem it unproductive! Call it a ‘year-on’!”
While moving ahead I now keep this philosophy in my head- “The mystery of life is not a problem to solve, but a reality to experience!”
(pardon the errors since it is just something off the rack..)
Bridging the gap of live experience:
If there was one thing which I missed during the days of my education, it was the excitement of doing something original, and learning from it. I am a child of a mother who is always restless in life, and hence, she sees to it that her kids too, are as restless as she is! However, down the years, I’ve really learnt the importance of seeing life as it is on the outside of a classroom, rather than within it.
My gap year, and the events leading to that decision happened in quick succession. In June 2008, I attended the Nirman series of camps conducted by a organization named the Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health (SEARCH), Gadchiroli, run by well-known public health experts Dr Abhay and Rani Bang. The mission behind Nirman was simple, involve and encourage the youth of today to challenge social problems and work on them. In a session, Dr Abhay Bang, while speaking on working for the people, said, “What you need to do today is to get into the fray. Spend some time out of your comfort zone, work and be with people you usually are not with. I would like to call this approach, arm-wrestling with life. Go out and learn how life is lived. Learning from life has innumerable lessons to give you, it will teach you things which will enrich not only your intellect, but your soul as well. Moreover, it will give what you do as a profession, a sense of purpose, it will define why you do something.” Nirman also offered a year-long or two-year long fellowship for its students. Through this, the candidate would live in a community, work with a host organization and tackle one well-defined social problem as a part of his fellowship.
I was in the final year of my bachelors in Pharmacy, and frankly, I was still searching for what I really wanted to do. Hearing about the Nirman Fellowship, I immediately began toying with the idea of going to Gadchiroli and working on a problem. The reason why I decided to take this fellowship was both personal, and also because I wanted to define the role I could play in society. I wanted to take on a real challenge, and I hence decided to join the fellowship at SEARCH, Gadchiroli for a year on June 23, 2009.
SEARCH was a place where I challenged all my weaknesses. I had decided to do it, and I had a hard time doing it. My first and foremost weakness was my shyness. I still remember the time when I stepped into a village all by myself, and tried to talk to a villager over some issues. India’s villagers are the best! Not only did I have engaging conversations, but the sheer purity of their hearts was something which surprised me. Seldom was I turned away without a cup of hot, (extremely!) sweet tea. As I began talking to the people, my inhibitions slowly melted away. I worked as a pharmacist at the SEARCH pharmacy, and I counseled people about the usage of medicines. During that time, I was stunned to know the callousness by which government hospitals dealt with situations. Tuberculosis doses were often left incomplete; people had to go to Primary health centers to get their medicines. Every time they went to a health center, treatment and proper attention was not guaranteed. Those counseling sessions in the SEARCH hospital were times when I revised all my lessons from my education, and if today, I remember a great deal of information about some medicines and don’t about others, it’s because my knowledge had undergone a need-based update!
I then decided to work on a social business (no-profit, no loss) business model to take simple medicines to villages where they did not reach them. I attempted to sell them through a youngster who sold jewelry in villages, through a young lad I trained and accompanied to a lot of villages, and ultimately, to know what was going wrong with tries of selling medicines this way, I sold medicines in villages myself. For eight days, I roamed door-to-door in villages, trying to sell simple medications to people who were ill. It was a revealing, sometimes quite humiliating and unforgettable experience. Many-a-times, I was literally driven away by people for disturbing them. Sometimes, people treated me with respect, while sometimes, they were happy to receive medicines on their doorstep. In the times when I was driven away, it crushed my ego, and I would frequently feel terrible after something like that happened. However, I later learnt to take it in my stride. Those eight days and the experiences they gave me made me a better human at all levels. My ego was cut down to size, I had learnt to do some kind of business, and I knew what problems villagers in those regions faced most frequently.
Apart from work, SEARCH was a rather lively place, full of youth from different backgrounds and bearing different dreams. I made lifelong friends, and I worked and enjoyed with them like never before. Some friends and I worked on an intervention program for hypertension, and we held night meetings in villages where again, we interacted with people as equals. Life in India’s villages is nothing like the exotic videos tourists capture in their cameras. We had a few unruly scenes and arguments with villagers, but the experience was enough to teach us how tough it was to bring change anywhere. It’s a long process, and its based on your relationships with people. When we became frequent visitors and the people gained our trust, we were heartened to see people listening to us. Due to some unfortunate events however, the program had to be terminated.
When I look back at the gap year, I feel that many lessons that year taught me are still seeping into me, slowly and steadily. However, if there was some immediate takeaway which I learnt, it was that life is never as narrow as you see around you. As humans, we are bound to be caught up with the happenings and situations in surroundings around us. We can never fathom what happens outside our field of vision without actually seeing and experiencing new places and people. Romain Rolland, in a talk, once said, “Man should see suffering around him. But that experience should not be like a titillation which stirs the soul for a moment and ends with no action. Man must experience suffering until the tears in his eyes dry up, and are replaced with a resoluteness that drives him to action.” Unfortunately, most of our lives are still bound by a rigid system where we are trained to focus on ourselves. This system refuses to let us step out of it and do something different. It will revere those who disregard it and become successful, but that reverence is tinged with a feeling of relief; a sense of relief that says ‘I don’t need to do this, I don’t need to step out and suffer and bring about change; other people will take care of society’s problems’. My year outside the system destroyed a lot of my preconceptions and narrow- mindedness. It emptied my cup which was full of my own ideas, and it gave me the ability that I would empty it again when the time arises. The world is too big a place for anyone to grasp fully, and it will be foolish for anyone to claim otherwise. However, what frightens me is that without this gap year, my life would have gone on without giving me a sense of how big and phenomenal this world is.
This year will always remain most special to me, because it broadened the definition of life as nothing had done before. If I live a more fruitful, more giving life in the future, it will always be because of what that year gave and taught me. To all those who wonder about ‘wasting’ a year in doing what you like and finding out what you want to do, I will push them to go for it! You will never repent doing what you love, you will add many years to your life, and not waste one, profitable mathematics, I think! My time as a social businessman seems to be paying off!
– Sagar Atre
Worked at SEARCH, Gadchiroli from June 2009-July 2010. Currently studying as a Master’s
student in Journalism at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, Athens,
The first, most prominent, thought that comes to mind when asked to describe my Year On is that it was the best thing I’ve decided to do in my life. The thought of doing such a thing was put in my head about halfway through my 11th std. by my parents. Though I was initially somewhat apprehensive, on thinking more about it, I agreed that this would be a good step to take. When I first began telling people that I was taking the unorthodox step of removing myself from the formal educational system for a year, I was told by some that I would be losing a year. I was told that I would feel a void of a year later on in life, and that I’d be better off just enrolling into the best possible engineering program. To be fair to those well-wishers, it hasn’t yet been that ‘later on’ in life, but at this stage, I can without doubt say that I feel as if I’ve gained a year. Now in college in the US, viewing myself in relation to my peers, I feel that I can look at the world from more varied angles, and look at life more deeply, than I would have otherwise. Pretentious as it may seem to someone who hasn’t experienced it, I truly feel that I have become more thoughtful, aware and generally enriched as a person in the past one-and-a- half years than I would have in another year within the system. But just because of the wide variety of people I exposed myself to and worked with, and because of the practice I gave myself in living independently, I feel that I am able to hold myself with more confidence and tactfulness in college. Such practical benefits aside, by living and viewing life outside the system from one year, I know that the path I’m on at the only moment isn’t the only way I have to lead my life, for both today and tomorrow.
The very insights about the nature of the Machine you can get from viewing it from afar are tremendous and profound. Though personal and ultimately somewhat different for each person, I’d be surprised to find anyone who could get such a bird’s-eye view of the system and not see it for the ridiculous charade it is. I’d visit school from time-to-time and instead of a student body working, I’d see a stampede of docile kids pushing each other to get to illusory goals that really don’t reflect any worthwhile merit. Be they exams or career options, most things related to the educational system seemed more unreasonable than they already had.
The insights you can get out about yourself are also very worthwhile. If you’re not bogged down by the expectations of being a part of the system and have enough free time, you’re bound to end up reflecting about yourself and the world for at least some time. For me, for some time, it became an obsession. Embarking upon on a journey of self-discovery and intellectual inquiry into abstract matters of the meaning in life and the nature of the self is something I unintentionally got into during my break.
Answers are not easy to come, at least with the questions I have been searching for, but the very act of searching is an act of mental vitality that simply was not open while being in the system. Though now back in the system and far from satisfyingly having found my answers, I am still yearningly pursuing them… and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
And if nothing else, even if you don’t learn more about yourself, you certainly learn how to deal with yourself much better. Just with the amount of unoccupied time you get where you’re compulsorily your only company, your mind takes you down lanes you may have subconsciously avoided for a very long time. It is impossible to hide from them now. No matter how busy you try to keep yourself, no one can do the job of disconnecting you from yourself like the frenzying system can.
Finally, there are the obvious gains in the physical realm of getting to see new places, of meeting new people, and of broadening one’s horizons. Of course, such physical experiences also are vital and complementary to the gain within you. For instance, I never did realize how important my mother-tongue was to me until I spent a month without a hearing a sound of it in the South. Moreover, the very possibility to engage yourself in activities and with people whom you could not have been exposed to within the constraints of the Machine can be boundlessly enriching.
Of course, no experience can be solely positive. There will for sure be some pitfalls that come out of taking a break. There could be times of loneliness, and some dis-attachment from the friends of your very recent past. This is unavoidable in a decision wherein you deliberately go one direction, and let all of your friends go the other. This, however, says nothing of the vastly more diverse range of friends you can make during a break. My experiences at Shikshantar <www.shikshantar.in> are testimony to this – where I not only made excellent friends of all ages, but saw a radically different groundwork upon which friendships can be created. And, as mentioned earlier, loneliness too can teach you an amazing amount of things about yourself.
Here are some lessons that I learnt along the way:
There were a number of junctions at which I was be tempted into taking decisions imprudent for all the fulfillment and productivity that a break can provide. These slippery slopes are the routine entertainment and addictive retreat-forms of our daily lives – television, facebook, etc. It’s immensely easy, with all the free time available, to while away time in such endeavours, but I regret the moments I did so. I spent a considerable time of my break enslaved by a couple of TV shows (luckily, I soon developed an ideological aversion to TV). Facebook, of course, is an everyday black hole. I’d call these and other such things mere distractions. Not even because of anything inherently wrong with them (though one could even make that argument), but simply because there are so many better things to do.
Also, one mistake that I’d warn any potential break-takers against making is to not plan. By this I’m not referring to planning out a hour-by-hour, rigid itinerary for your days. Spontaneity and flexibility are invaluable in their place. What I’m drawing attention to is to not wait till the last moment, or even past it if you’re like me, to plan an undertaking. Or an example in more direct terms… looking to volunteer with an organization in June, I should have started searching in March! Or even earlier. I learnt that I can’t twiddle my thumbs and wake up one day thinking that the world will fall into place. It doesn’t. Promptness, persistence, and starting early, that’s what does. As far as all affairs requiring engagement with the worldly world go, that’s my biggest piece of advice.
Such advice is not at all meant to be discouragement. The positives described here are intended to be very direct encouragements for the idea of taking a break. So, in conclusion, I offer my heartiest recommendation to take the plunge. You’ll come out revitalized and enriched, as if you’ve just been born. Or at the very least, you’ll feel like you’ve come out of a coma. If you decide to re-enter the system, you may not feel like being in it again… and that may not be such a bad thing. Who knows what exciting, dazzling possibilities that will throw forward in your life? And even if you want to stay in the system afterwards, you’ll be a whole new different dimension of insight and experience.
But in either case, it’s a good move. So go on… take a break. If you have any questions or need help strategizing your year on, feel free to write to me.
Freedom to learn.
There have been sweeping changes in education at the school level today. The Right to Education Act has opened the availability of learning to all without any barriers of time and duration. This, in itself, creates opportunities to learn everywhere and all through life. To make the best use of this opportunity and not lapse into the traditional mindset of “I am too old to learn” or “I know what to do, experience is the best teacher“, there is need for a more leisurely and self-paced learning mode.
In the very nature of the 10+2 system or the 12 year school + 3 year graduation +2 year post graduation and 4 year research period is built a very rigid and often unattainable control over learning. In the process of going from one level to another, time is spent on preparing for the run, taking a leap and falling on the other side, only to pick oneself up and run for another leap into nothing of great merit.
If this sort of controlled exploration of the learning process is re-organised in to a more flexible and interest dependent learning experience the whole “ JOY’ of learning would return perhaps. As one grows older, there is more and more need to explore, make mistakes and retrace steps. The 12-year school model offers only an introduction to the whole meaning of knowledge and skills. It is only after the 12 years of “Chhatravas” is over, that there is time to breathe and think through what to do.
Now any pausing or waiting is frowned upon and the names themselves GAP year, taken time off, doing nothing, reflect this. In the earlier days, when the ICSE schools would have their exams in December and the CBSE in March, there was a 6-month period before applications to University could be made. This was however not called GAP. The need to stop and think, reflect on choices, catch up with experience giving opportunities, travel, or just do nothing but self-study and reflect, is what every person wants and should by right get if quality education is to be taken seriously.
What are the opportunities during such a year apart from doing nothing, self-studying and reflecting, is another query that parents and children have. One is so used to having GAP YEAR OPTIONS lined up and different companies seeing the monetary advantage in offering opportunities, including living a rural life, that to plan one’s own choice becomes hard, as no openings may exist for the 16 year-old. Apart from which, is the concern that parents and guardians have for the care and safety of these teenagers as the areas they choose to work in are not under any jurisdiction of child rights.
It is in such a situation that the concept of Free Progress needs to be a closely examined and institutions like schools
open their doors to those who do want to explore new avenues. It could be these centres in schools and colleges offering resources for music, art, drama, pedagogy, craft, photography, book publishing, masonry, carpentry, weaving, tailoring, English teaching and learning, which may provide space for our 16 year-olds to explore before they choose what they want to do in class 11 and 12 and those who complete class 12 to think about what to do in college and life. Given the safety of the home and resource centre, a year spent in study and reflection would certainly enhance the learning we have in India today.
– Some thoughts from a Free Progress Integral School experience at the Mirambika Free Progress School, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Delhi Branch , Sri Aurobindo Marg, New Delhi
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.
As you know I’ve been facilitating learning spaces for the past 30 years. Since the last few years I’ve been urging all students to take a ‘year on’ from academics to take the time to listen to their inner self and to take time to experience life first hand before going for any professional training. To take a year to discover what they really want to do and explore that – away from what others tell/expect them to do. After all it is their life!
Parents usually reject all suggestions for taking a gap year, thinking it a waste of time. The students who get good grades are also reluctant to take this break as they think that they will be left behind.
I strongly advocate a ‘year on’ for all children for several reasons. I think after years of doing as they are told in schools and at home, with most of their time spent studying, all young adults need time off to figure out what they want, where they are headed and to just get a break from a regimented, totally dictated life. Without this break too many students’ turn rebellious or burn out in the next few years exhausted from years of studying and preparing for examinations. If most youngsters don’t know what they want, it is because we have never given them the time to discover who they are and what they want. Nowadays most students have no respite even in the holidays when they are rushed into summer camps packed with fun activities and/or extra tutorials. Not having unstructured time to themselves makes them dependent upon others and the TV for constant amusement – without which they are bored and uneasy.
Without any time off to figure things out for themselves, our children drift into college and take up courses they have no interest in based upon what we tell them or based upon what their peers have chosen. Then for the rest of their life, they get locked into careers that they have no interest in. Careers most of them follow feeling tortured and trapped. They are neither able to enjoy their work nor give it their best. Thus we don’t just condemn our children to a life of misery but condemn society to a battery of indifferent workers in all walks of life. People who are not self-motivated but need to be prodded, pushed or carried through till their spirit breaks and they’ve no energy left to do otherwise or to rebel. If we want our children to survive, enjoy their life, do their work well and have some peace of mind, we need to encourage them to take at least a year to figure things out for themselves.
So when my own daughter reached 10th class I told her to take a year off. She refused to even consider the idea with the explanation, “I will be left behind and all my classmates will get ahead of me.” I did not think insisting at that point would have helped, so I let it pass but we kept returning to the possibility now and then. After her twelfth I again told her to take a year off but again she wasn’t open to the idea. She went through her graduation but I could see that her heart wasn’t in it – even though she had chosen her subjects and was getting good grades. It was only after her graduation that she decided to take a year and a half off. During the year she spent most of her time doing nothing, reading, listening to music, watching films, sleeping to goofing off – and, mostly alone. She seemed to be doing nothing and had even me worried with the amount of time she spent alone. She returned after the year clearer about what she wanted to do and much more focused and self-motivated.
Not enough children are allowed to take up this suggestion but most of those who did, emerged energized, self-motivated and clearer about their path. Our children need our support to take this time to figure things out for themselves as it is absolutely essential for their well-being. If we really care for our children’s’ well-being and happiness we owe it to them.
Centre for Learning – A Place Where Learning is Fun