Sunday, September 23, 2012

Must-read books on education system and its hidden agendas

In case you're interested in finding out more about the present-day mainstream education system...


If you're new to this topic, you can start with Dumbing us Down. I'll recommend all parents of school-going children to read this, skip to the first chapter if you have less time. (the link is a google books preview and the main chapter can be read there)

Next, for data and references to back up the theories, Weapons of Mass Instruction is best (it's also his latest book so most updated)

You can buy the books here:
Dumbing us Down, Rs.156 on Infibeam
Weapons of Mass Instruction, Rs.195 on Infibeam

Some background: The present-day schooling system, with age segregation, subjects division, periods, top-down control, compulsory seating, divide-and-rule, standardized curriculum, grading human beings by irrelevant marks, etc was first set up in Germany, with the intent to create a more obedient and efficient population. Adolph Hitler passed a law banning homeschooling or unschooling in Germany before WW2, and that ban remains in place to this day.

Many scholars and authors over the past century have credited this system to having created the environment that made the First and Second World War possible -- little to no domestic opposition, loss of independent and critical thinking among citizenry, high obedience to authority, and loss of community responsibility among others.

It has also been credited with, in partnership with TV, for creating a consumerist culture and hogging up precious time that an individual could otherwise have used to ponder upon the deeper aspects of life.

Lastly, with the industry rigged to favour these arbitrary qualifications instead of actual competence, there was practically no free choice left for people who even knew that they were better off on their own.

As a result we today have a world where, from doctors to tax collectors to the upper levels of major companies, critical decision-making powers are vested mostly in the hands of persons who were able to best crack certain exams and courses, but who might not be so well-placed for the job in real terms (added of course the enormous egos and disconnect from the people they are supposed to serve); whereas the people who could have really made a significant contribution, are locked out due to being under-qualified just because they listened to their innate instincts a little more in childhood/youth and didn't score as well as they were ordered to.

Does that ring a bell? Then do read! Pls email me on nikhil.js [at] if you want to know how o get digital copies of the books.

OK, so is there a better way to raise our kids? I don't want to keep them locked up in home all the time.

If you want to see the potential of a REAL education and what a true school ought to look like, I highly recommend you check out Free at Last - the Sudbury Valley school.

No age segregation, no compulsory curriculum, no fractured time division, no treating children as dumb, no grading or discrimination between students. The link above leads to a google books preview and most of the book is available for reading. You can also buy it at:

Free At Last the Sudbury Valley School, Rs.234 on Infibeam

Here's an excerpt: And-Rithmetic-by-Daniel-Greenberg which shows that it's possible for a kid to learn all basic math, from 1+1 to square roots in 20 hours (1 hour per week), not six years as assumed in mainstream schooling.

Update: Got a freely distributed ebook by Sudbury Valley School, 58 pages, that includes all the most important and awesome details! Highly recommend this to anyone who's got an interest in exploring how children ACTUALLY learn.

The Sudbury Valley School
More Addendum:
The paragraph below (excerpt from Free at Last) is dedicated to all the amazing, brilliant and incredibly hard-working Teach for India Fellows, along with the message : You've all been barking up the wrong tree.

 Not long ago, in 1968, Sudbury Valley School decided to take a fresh look at reading. Children were left alone and never forced to learn how to read. The result was stunning. During the years that have elapsed since the school was founded, all the children learned how to read, but at widely different ages. Some learned at 4, others at 6, others at 8 or 9 or even later. By the time they were teenagers, you couldn't tell the difference between early readers and late readers. No one hated reading, all did it quite well, and there have been no observed functional disorders at all.
-- from

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

moving on to Swaraj

Something about Swaraj I wrote on FB recently in reply to a friend's
very good queries.
Maybe this might tell you a few in-depth things about what I'm up to nowadays.

ya, it's vague. Actually if you look at Swaraj from a professional
angle, a lot of things are unclear. But that's the point : In a world
where there are no real guarantees, is it smart to judge anything by
the guarantees it gives? What did TFI promise, showcase, and what did
it turn out to be? And btw, a line from John Gatto : I've found that
good teachers are more dangerous than bad teachers.

Finance: Rs.45,000 a year. Through the year, when we're not at the
campus, our transport and food expenses are re-imbursed, but with
Internships - payment or non-payment depends on our mutual
arrangements. Since we're so much into gift culture, even this part is
usually addressed like that. Usually we eat and sleep at the same
places, so food and lodging is taken care of.

For the most part, in Swaraj we're looking for ways to enrich our
heart and soul rather than our pockets. In the outgoing batch, the one
common current I found was that they had moved on from living in fear
of this or that. On the way, needs for expensive lifestyles vanished,
they got simpler, and needs for survival worked themselves out
organically. So yeah, it's way more spiritual than professional. And
no weekly DEADLINES, thank God!

To answer your questions, first of all, there's no THEY. There's no
real upper authority or system or staff that plans this and decides
that. We decide the whole plan of what we want to do during our meets
(a month long) on the first day by sitting together and coming to a
consensus. And if something comes up we sit together and discuss
again. Recall what we heard at Manav Sadhana? Pretty much the same
thing. At most there's about 5~6 ppl who have had lots of experience
in these sectors over the course of their lives and who share them

"Partner organisations" mostly translates to lots of phone numbers,
email addresses, facebook friends and websites gathered and which keep
getting added to. (Btw that was the deal in TFI too) The way Swaraj
helps is by being a resource of contacts and credibility - it's still
easier to visit ppl as part of a group than going it alone. And then
everyone shares whatever they found so one person can benefit from 20
ppl's experiences.

I've found the sessions, dialogues, support VERY good... am generally
feeling quite happier and sturdier than I was in TFI. Most importantly
we get time and space to really get to know ourselves and shed the
outer masks and address our inner feelings. There's no fear of being
ostracized and no "directives" from the top. There's way more humour.
There's no compulsion to always be 'in' with the crowd. Of course,
there have been issues in interactions with others, and I'm glad they
came up rather than being suppressed because they helped me.

There's no Mandatory. Even in TFI, there's actually no mandatory, you
just don't get the paycheck and the certificate. There's no paycheck
nor certificate in Swaraj, so there. (Btw, I've decided NOT to take
any experience letter from TFI)

The campus tech is basic (Well, it's an ashram, not a campus). There
is minimal internet connectivity, you share it with the group so that
limits the time. It actually helped me a lot in de-addicting from
techy life. There's a lot of focus on healthy living.

There is a LOT of interest in rural life, organic and natural farming.
We've talked, visited people doing it, some of us are trying it now.
Living at the ashram the last 1.5 months was lovely. We take part in
the day-to-day activities. I ploughed, dug, weeded, mixed cowdung and
mud with my legs and hands, and helped out in the kitchen every few
days, with cooking and cleaning.

All our illusions about the importance of schooling get wiped out when
we meet kids and adults who've consciously never been to school, and
when we really spend time with people in the village.

Lastly, no more assessments, no more tracking, no more controlling
other human beings, no more being controlled by other human beings.
Thank God I walked out (of TFI) when the time came.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Maa Baap ka Ehsaan

Warning: If this article seems offensive, please be assured that it only means that it is having the intended effect on the people it intended to have an effect on.

We come across a lot of stories and advice on the immeasurable, un-repayable debt we owe to our parents.
A favorite is the story of the giving tree. The brat comes along and takes the fruits, branches and finally chops the whole trunk off and the whole time our dear tree is supposedly just happily giving of itself for the sake of the brat. The author of that bogus tear-jerker ought to get sued for taking undue advantage of the fact that trees can't talk. Just because they can't talk, it's suddenly o.k. to imagine that they're oh-so-giving-and-sacrificial. My Ass.
Anyways, this story then gets magically metamorphosed into telling us that our parents are just like the tree. (actually, wouldn't it be so awesome if they couldn't yell or move around...). Forget about the lessons in sustainability that they didn't teach their kid. (Like, plant 10 more trees for every one you chop, you blathering idiot)

I'd like to punch a few holes into this "we-are-indebted" philosophy.
Now, it would seem rude to directly point fingers at my parents and state that they haven't done any ehsaan (aka favors) on me. So let me take it a generation forward.
Suppose that I have a baby and I am raising it as its parent.
During the whole time that I'm caring for her, feeding her, loving her, nurturing her... for even one single second am I going to think that I am doing some major Ehsaan on the baby?
Suppose that she's adopted.
Even then, should I be thinking for even one second that I'm doing the baby an enormous, unpayable, immeasurable favor?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pedal powered devices by Hiren Jayesh, Gujrat Vidyapeeth, Ahmedabad India

Where: Alternative Energy Department, Gujarat Vidyapeeth, Ahmedabad

Who: Hiren Jayesh (one person) , Contact:

When: Swaraj K3 batch’s Ahmedabad Learning Journey, August 22, 2012

1. Hand operated Blender / mixie

A hand operated drill attached; there are about 4~5 gear connections including one horizontal-to-vertical axis conversion. Results in very high number of rotations of the final blender end upon slow rotation of the handle.

Advantage vis-a-vis cycle-operated device: This is smaller, can fit easily inside a kitchen, close to where the cooking is happening. Doesn’t need legs, so more suitable for kids, senior citizens and people in sarees/lungis.

2. Pedal powered washing machine

A circular metal cage with holes is fitted inside a standard metal grain-storage box.

Advantage vis-a-vis another simpler model where a drum is directly attached to the shaft:
This takes care of the issue of leakage of water. The clothes and detergent are put inside the drum via a hinged hatch on the curved side (hence loading/unloading clothes is also easier than the model we have). The whole box is filled with water upto half the drum’s height. Thanks to the several holes, water enters the drum too. And then the drum is spun, making the clothes slosh in and out of the water. The only watch-out places for leakage of water are two small circular holes made on 2 sides of the box for fitting the shaft. And those spots are non-moving.
Since the drum is smaller, and not holding the bullk of the water, there is comparatively lesser inertia during rotation, making it easier for the user to halt and reverse direction.

3. Pedal powered car battery charger

A rubber belt tied around the bicycle wheel’s rim drives the dynamo. A normal cycling speed input generates 1100RPM at the dynamo end. Hiren has tested that an average user can run this for about 15 minutes before needing a break.

The dynamo generates DC (direct current) electric power. This is connected to a small voltage regulator that stabilizes the voltage at 14 volts. If the cycle speed (and hence output voltage) drops below a certain limit, the power supplied to the battery is automatically cut off by the regulator. If the cycle speed is excessive (due to an over-enthusiastic cyclist), then too the regulator limits the voltage to the battery at 14V (or something like that). This is done to prevent damage to the battery.

To use this stored energy, a separate DC circuit is connected to the car battery (when not charging) that would have some voltage-varying mechanism to supply power to any DC electronic devices like LEDs, mobile and laptop chargers. Simplest being a potentiometer, could use a chopper circuit to supply higher than 12V, or can connect two car batteries in series to make a 24V source. (We did not see/explore this part in our visit).

Note: It is not practical to invert this to 230V AC power (too much energy is wasted in storage then inversion to AC and then stepping up). Better in the longer run to re-design the devices we use to work around low voltage DC.


Dynamo : A permanent magnet DC motor/generator manufactured by Pranshu motors,

14 volt, 1100 RPM (revolutions per minute), 3.7 Ah (Ampere hour)

Manufacturer: Pranshu servo motors,

Battery : 26 Ah (Ampere-hour), 12v standard car battery (Amaron)

Poem: Swaraj Milan 2012 invite

आयें हम सब अलग जहां से
दिल में अनेक ख्वाइशें लिए
कुछ नया करने की चाह से
खुद को और जानने के लिए

Aayein hum sab alag jahaan se
Dil mein anek khwaishein liye
Kuch naya karne ki chaah se
Khud ko aur jaanne ke liye

स्व -जीवन और सह -जीवन
इन दोनों को एक साथ लाया
तपोवन की खुली वादियों में
जीने का नया नजरिया पाया

Swa-jeevan aur sah-jeevan
In dono ko ek saath laaya
Tapovan ki khuli vaadiyon mein
Jeene ka naya nazariya paaya

एक दूसरे का साथ देते
किये कितने नये खोज
नए उठे सवालों पर
किये कितने नए प्रयोग

Ek doosre ka saath dete
Kiye kitne naye khoj
Naye uthe sawaalon par
Kiye kitne naye prayog


चलो एक बार फिर एक हो जाते हैं
वहीँ जहां हमने की थी शुरुवात
पुराने और नए यार सब मिलके
आगे बधातें हैं बात !

Chalo ek baar phir ek ho jaate hain
Wahin jahaan humne ki the shuruwaat
Puraane aur naye yaar sab milke
Aagey badhaate hain baat

बहुत सारा SHARING, बहुत सारा FUN
शुरू करते हैं खोजियों का...
मिलन !

Bahut sara sharing, bahut sara fun
Shuru karte hain khojiyon ka...

This is a poem I wrote in an invitation to all the batches of Swaraj University (me being in the 3rd batch) for a one-week get-together that we've named "Milan" which means "get-together". Not related to the football club ;)
Learn more about Swaraj over here.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Koondankulum and the power junkies

Ain't it weird how of all the people ostensibly voicing support for Koondankulam's nuke power plant, no one actually lives there nor are they willing to have their own families located anywhere near a nuclear plant; and most of the people on the ground risking their lives (one just got killed btw), continuously campaigning since months against it, standing up despite repeated intimidation by the e
ntire police force, happen to actually LIVE over there, have families settled there since generations?

Ain't it weird how with over 1 million people located in the immediate impact zone of the plant in case of any sudden or slow disaster, with absolutely no sound evacuation plan in place -- a situation that goes against all international nuclear safety regulations and which would never be permitted by any other country on Earth, it's being vouched that there can NEVER EVER EVER be any slightest possibility of anything going wrong? (Didn't we last hear something like that being said and proved wrong before, and aren't we supposed to be one of the most terrorism-hit countries in the world?) Ain't it weird how none of the people who stand to make big bucks from the plant are willing to live anywhere near it?

Ain't it weird how all this hulabaloo is being done for the sake of generating 9.2GW of power (with a permanent, recurring high import and high maintenance bill that will exceed the full cost of any renewable alternative in a 50-yr calculation exercise), when India's projected electric demand will cross 300GW in under 10 yrs time? So something that's only going to chip in 3% of the country's total power needs, which won't even satisfy its own state's power needs, is suddenly so critical for the "progress of India" that it's ok to put all concerns aside?

When did Indians become a bunch of short-sighted, impatient little power-junkies? Sigh.

Gift Economy

Would you like to show your appreciation for this work through a small contribution?

(PS: there's no ads or revenue sources of any kind on this blog)

Related Posts with Thumbnails