How being an ideal student made me insufferable for life

And why I don’t want to “school” my kid

All throughout my school, I was an ideal student – who was loved by teachers, adored by other parents and loathed by fellow students.

Very Obedient, disciplined and hard working.

I did all that the school asked me to do – learn my lessons, finish the homework well in time to perfection, participate in extra curricular activities and ace each of them.

I was hardly ever scolded

And when I was, I made sure that I fixed my mistakes. I would never let it happen again.

I loved my school life then.

And today I blame all my flaws on it.

On Validation and Punishment

The validation was so strong and frequent that I got addicted to it.

Today I seek external validation in everything I do.

When I get it, I am on top of the world, and when I don’t, I am infuriated. I either blame the other person for not seeing the value that I add or I shame myself for not doing enough.

It is true for work the I do at office, it is true for meals I cook at home.

And I dread punishments.

I imagine them to be immediate and brutal – just like in school.

For example, when I am in a meeting with a 100 people, and if I don’t find interesting, I always dread that somebody will call me out and ask what was just said.

I imagine how I would struggle to answer that.

Nobody has ever done that to me in a meeting!

But in school, if the teacher finds out that you are not paying attention, the results would be disastrous.

You could never say that the class was boring.

And even if it was, the responsibility of learning from a dead lecture always fell on the student.

While in the real world, the responsibility of teaching something worthwhile in a webinar of a 100 people falls on the presenter.

I never get punished for not paying attention in boring presentation.

But I still dread the impending punishment and embarrassment.

Whenever I am not seeking validation, I am avoiding being punished.

On Intrinsic Motivation

I find it hard to define what intrinsically motivates me.

If no one cared what I was doing, what would I do – I have no idea.

If there was no chance of external validation and no fear of punishment I would feel helpless and fail to make a To-Do list for myself every morning.

And the irony is – right now, I feel like I am the best version of myself.

This is all I ever wanted in life. The 12 yr old me always wanted this future.

But now I wish I could go back and change this one thing – The way I was schooled.

I wish the 12 yr old me had a different vision for herself.

On Unschooling

I cannot change my past. But I can try make sure that Neo has a different vision for himself.

So since the last one year, we have stopped “schooling” him.

The pandemic presented a wonderful opportunity to homeschool him – One thing which both me and Ayush always wanted.

We jumped on the opportunity.

A couple of days into online classes and we hated the experience. All three of us dreaded the thought of having a class sharp at 9 (or 10 or whatever the time was!).

We were exhausted at the end of it and relieved that it had ended.

None of us had any excitement about what he would learn today. Instead it was a mundane cycle of classwork and homework and some random activities thrown in between.

And this is one of the better schools in town.

I checked with other parents and teachers – this is how schooling is done.

It is normal to not be excited about learning. Who is excited about learning in school anyways right?


Keeping him out of school 100% felt very extreme.

What if they reopen and don’t take our kid back? What if they reject us and our kid? Will he not need his school certificates? (the fear of punishment still haunts us, we are well schooled parents you see!)

We spoke to the authorities and gave the conventional concerns around “screen time”.

We convinced them to not ask us to attend any of the classes. We would continue to pay the fee to be a part of their system.

He would give tests and we would update the teachers about his “learning progress” regularly.

On Homeschooling

The day we decided to stop regular school, we realized we were far less anxious.

We sketched a broad routine for Neo, which guides the day but does not dictate it.

It includes ample time to –

  • Play – Play anything – make tents, planes, buildings, characters, use existing toys to make new toys, or simply wonder looking outside the window.
  • Read – Read anything – game manuals, pamphlets, story books, dinosaur books or encyclopedias.
  • Have Fun – Play cricket outside, or indoors on a board game, play chess, monopoly, “Ticket to ride”, Settlers of Catan, and any other game that Amazon could deliver.

And so much more time to learn, discuss and ask interesting questions

  • Why does it not snow in Noida – where we live.
  • What is Pangea?
  • How big is Argentina?
  • What is the similarity between a therapod and a sauropod? Which animals lived in the Triassic time period?
  • Why do we have a belly button?
  • What happens after we die!

It takes us 15 mins to teach him the school lesson in Math, English, Hindi or Environmental Sciences (He is in class 2)

He takes about an hour to practice the daily lessons.

When he wakes up in the morning, he looks forward to the day – its a different reason everyday.

The only constant is his excitement for the day.

On Going Back

I cannot imagine sending him back to place where a bell decides that he should stop doing what he is doing and switch to the next random topic.

(A topic decided purely based on the availability of teachers at that moment in the week.)

A place that would never allow deep work.

A place that would want to consume all his time through classwork, homework, summer camps, French classes, Coding classes etc.

A place whose only target is to keep him “occupied”.

With no time for himself, he would never learn about himself.

Someone once advised me – The kid’s brain is the most active in its early years – teach them as much as you can – fill it in with good knowledge.

It will never be as primed to learn as it is now.

While I agree about the prime learning time, I strongly disagree with the analogy of “filling it like an empty vessel”.

Kids are not an empty vessel to be filled with different things to learn.

It is not a blank canvas to be filled with colors.

It is more like a sculpting – You need to carve out the unnecessary parts to bring out the beauty inside.

It is like gardening – where you water the plant, tend it, to make sure it blossoms to its capacity.

Our schools are factories that continue to focus on making sure our kids are “employable in larger factories”.

Their ways are stuck in industrial age.

Their prime goal is Physical and Financial Safety of the child in a “dangerous world”.

In reality, the biggest “danger” a child faces today is to lose their uniqueness on a conveyor belt meant to produce replicas of “the ideal student”.

We are way past the industrial age, it’s high time we admit this fact to ourselves.

I am no educator but I think our educational institutions need a major overhaul.

Many experts in the field blame the institutions for everything that is going wrong with the world.

Schooling teaches out of context, irrelevant ideas, that will never prepare our kids to be well functioning adults in real life.

It teaches them distractions and following the command.

It deprives them of precious time with family and community.

If they do well in life, it’s despite their schooling, not because of it.

The world needs less schools not more.

We need less schooling not more.

Till that happens, we are not going back to school!