Home Schooling, Sociocracy 3.0 & Puvidham

by Ashok Subramanian

When we (myself, Pria, my daughter Vipasha and baby Ramanan) reached the hotel in Dharmapuri, my daughter and I rushed to wash our hands leaving my wife and Ramanan at the table.

I opened my tap in the wash basin and water rushed its way out! As I was washing my hands, Vipasha told me, “Why are you wasting so much water?” I looked at her tap and she had opened it only so much that a thin stream of water was running out. I realized that I had been mindless in opening my tap. I quickly made an excuse and closed the tap with a sense of surprise!

Is this the gal, who with her friend played water sports in her bathroom, by closing the water closet and letting water flow all through the bedroom and hall in our house in Kerala few months back?

I walked back to the restaurant table thinking about her month long stay at Puvidham School in Dharmapuri, a rural part of Tamil Nadu, from where we were just returning. Our first stop back was at this restaurant for food and I already started noticing the influence that Puvidham had on her.

* * *

My daughter was assigned a few daily jobs at Puvidham during her month-long stay. Some of the jobs that she was involved during her stay included:

1. Maintenance of the cow shelter every morning
2. Breaking the brick rubbles into mud dust
3. Maintenance of the toilet area
4. Taking the goats/cows grazing in the wild

She also attended the Summer Camp, where she was part of:

1. Soap Making
2. Natural Dye making
3. Tamil Singing
4. Cooking
5. Arts and Crafts
6. Science Classes
7. Trekking into the wild for up to 14 km

I stayed with her for a few days at the start, after which I left, leaving my family behind for the rest of the days.

During my brief stay, I involved myself in:

1. Brick lifting & passing
2. Breaking bricks into half, precisely
3. Design of dry toilets
4. Design and construction of dome
5. Testing of materials for brick building

Given that I had done my masters degree in improving the tensile strength of bricks, I enjoyed reconnecting to my engineering project works after a long, long time.

The first criteria for our stay at Puvidham was to involve ourselves in the work that was going on at Puvidham. Not only learning to take care of our personal needs, but also to contribute to the work that is going on at Puvidham is mandatory, unless you have a special reason for not doing so.

We met many volunteers who come regularly to learn about Sustainable Living @ Puvidham. The day there starts at 6am with daily work of maintaining the place, the cattle, the kitchen, the construction work, etc.

We had a meal schedule that aided the work flow. We got 2–3 rounds of traditional rice/nutrient rich porridges in the morning, our brunch was around 11am, then we got snacks/porridges/fruits all around the day, and finally we ate our dinner around 8pm in the night.

It was initially tough to adapt. However, the beauty of the place, the joy of learning, the innocence and love of the students/adults, the admiration for the scientific social experiments, made it easier day-by-day.

Meenakshi, who comes across as a very outspoken, humorous and tough task master with a golden heart, is an inspiration for every one who visits here. She, being an architect, was constantly experimenting with new ways of living with sensitivity for the planet.

Not every one can accommodate the routine here and some did leave mid-way complaining about their way of living. However, we sustained; I mean to say, my daughter sustained for 30 days effortlessly.

The joy of playing in the swimming pool after the rain harvested water flows into the pool is one of the many things that she relished here. She would pray daily for more rain to raise the level of water in the pool. After the rain in the night, she would run to the pool in the morning to see how much the water level had risen.

There is a bit of science in everything and she was beginning to realise the same at Puvidham everyday — the way the utensils are washed without letting a drop of water go into the drain, learning the little nuances to use the dry compost toilet every day, the merry-go-round that gets connected to the crushing machine instead of the electricity, the treadmill which functions as the water motor — all will raise your eye-brows and will leave you deeply challenged about the way we live in cities in our regular life.

I saw my daughter becoming independent there day-by-day. We wouldn’t know where she would be during the entire day. It was heartening to see a place for children with all these possibilities in one place.

I came back with a complete satisfaction of introducing my daughter to a conscious rural life-style in response to the modern chaos that is going on in the cities.

* * *

Two years ago, when James Priest from UK came to India to teach Sociocracy 3.0, he stayed with us for a night and we offered him my daughter’s room. Vipasha became totally agitated. As we were forcing her to part with her room, James gently nudged us to listen to her and respect her boundaries instead. We became conscious that her room was part of herself and changed the way we saw her and her priorities thereafter.

One of the key things that I learnt from Sociocracy 3.0 is to learn to recognise tension in myself and others and respond to/respect the same.

I am known to respond to my desires in my life and I do have a tendency to let go of tensions that are happening beyond my boundaries. Now learning to recognise my daughter’s tensions and to respect her in her response to her tensions has become the framework for our homeschooling approach.

To go to a place like Puvidham, where their research/experiments/way of living is in response to their tensions about the world, was a gentle reminder about what Sociocracy 3.0 can do for the world — if people start to recognise and respect their tensions about the world and respond to them in the way they best can.

Having a baby in the last one year in our life has again re-ignited our sense of learning about life in a much deeper way. My son, Ramanan (10 months old now), wants to stay close to his mum all the time, which I am told, is normal behaviour for boy babies. During one of our trips, I had to briefly separate him from his mum for about 10–15 minutes and he started crying so hard to get back to his mum. I was wondering what makes him want to go to his mum so badly.

It took a month or two for me to figure out the answer. I think it is his sense of self that includes his mum and to separate from his mum before he has outgrown her is like separating him from himself. This is what I sensed could have been his experience.

I thought that it might be possible that a baby is not conscious of him/herself while he is born. Soon after, we call him by name and repeatedly remind him about himself in the way we relate to each other with our language. In a way, we teach him that we all are different/separate individuals, while the baby’s consciousness can be a sort of continuum!

To look at a cow/dog on the road with hunger and move on with my priorities in life is only possible when I have sort of broken out of that continuum and have temporarily created a sense of self around myself and am happy with that.

My family or marriage breaks this sense of self in me and creates a sense of togetherness that I tend to recognise the needs of my family and act on them as if they are my needs.

I have seen people who have such togetherness with animals and plants around them, possibly their sense of self is still part of a continuum; not having been broken by the social consciousness prevalent in today’s times.

And that’s the experience that we had in Puvidham.

The hotel water running in the tap is part of my daughter’s self now…while I am yet to get there, clearly!!

Thank you, Puvidham, James Priest and Sociocracy 3.0 for enriching our homeschooling journey and our approach to life!!!

- Ashok Subramanian (www.Shinota.com)

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