Feel the magic

Sharmila Govande

Learning Societies Unconference, fondly known as LSUC, is a gathering of anyone and everyone concerned about learning. People from various walks of life – involved in farming, education and learning, alternative lifestyles such as slow living, minimalism, natural living, environmentalists, scientists, innovators, practitioners, unschoolers, homeschoolers, artists, designers, activists, filmmakers, social entrepreneurs, soul searchers, path seekers, people in search of their many questions around life and learning. A family-friendly event, it brings together individuals including children, adults and grandparents. One can see children running around, playing, laughing, giggling and chatting and at the same time participating in discussions and freely and openly stating their viewpoints. One can also see individuals engaged in conversations with others or simply spending time in solitude or deeply engaged in their talents or even playing, running around and joking and simply having fun. As its name suggests, it is not a conference, but an ‘unconference’ – there are no fancy venues, no prohibitive registration amounts, no keynote speakers, no set agenda or schedule and no formal setting, no decorum to be maintained. It is an open, free learning space co-created by everyone who is a part of it.

Started in 2002, LSUC is one among the many efforts to transform our schooled society into a learning society. It is a five day gathering of people who come and co-create the entire experience. It demonstrates how learning takes place and sets an example for how things can be done differently. According to Manish Jain, the man behind bringing this idea to life, “One of the reasons for launching LSUC was to generate a dialogue about how you shift from a schooling society to a learning society. We wanted to do this with a new crowd, not the usual suspects who attend education conferences. There are so many people who are constantly creating and engaging in meaningful dialogue about the future of our planet, and these are not necessarily the principals and teachers of educational institutes but people working on organic farming and sustainability, people who have broken away from a known system to understand themselves, families experimenting with homeschooling and unschooling, people exploring alternate healing, arts, facilitation, and so on.”

Bringing together this diverse group of people, providing space and opportunity for everyone to connect, form new friendships, experience the inter-relatedness and interdependence in everything and thereby share, build and give rise to new ideas and imagination forms the crux of this gathering. We rarely see conferences organized for such diverse people from different socio-economic backgrounds and age groups. By bringing together adults, senior citizens and children, LSUC attempts to help people see how real learning takes place. It attempts to bring to light that learning happens not in closed rooms among a set of people listening to speakers (known to be experts) but when people deeply engage in something they are interested in and learning is not limited by age and a child can be as much engaged as an adult in learning something he/she is interested in.

LSUC does not have a fixed agenda or schedule, but is co-created by everyone attending it. Participants including the organizers have no clue about how the entire event will unfold. This ‘Unknown’ is an attempt to break the barriers created by schedules, timetables and set agendas and curriculums from our schooled lives. Though there is a team of volunteers for all the pre-work (mainly around logistics of food and accommodation), participants start taking charge as they arrive at the venue. The ‘wholeholding team’ encourages and supports the participants in taking charge and in ensuring that the event proceeds organically but with purpose.

The venue is usually a school or university campus, a learning center, in wilderness or on a farm – a place that can hold about a thousand people. The facilities are basic and every participant is responsible for maintaining the facility, preparing and serving food, preparing spaces for sessions and cleanliness. At one moment, a participant might be cleaning bathrooms or dishes and the next he/she could be facilitating a session. This is a huge step toward understanding ‘Dignity of labour’, ‘Equality’ and Responsibility. The atmosphere at LSUC is such that no one has to ask people to take up tasks. People just see what needs to be done and volunteer.

Sessions are not pre-planned but offered by the participants themselves. ‘Offering of sessions’ brings among people, the value of sharing and at the same time gives people the choice of receiving. Anybody including children who feel they have some talent, skill and perspective to share or are looking for answers can offer sessions. Sessions offered range from organic farming, sustainability, sharing of experiences, healthy living, alternative learning spaces, unschooling and homeschooling, cartooning, crochet, dance and movement, yoga, theatre, science, investments, travel without money, animation, etc. Common community sessions and LSUC rituals include the morning circle, You Lead talks, circular dances, the mela (fair) and the auction that explores alternate currency, film viewing, dance party and local excursions.

Participants have the freedom to attend any of the sessions offered. There is always the FOMO (Fear of missing out) among certain people who try attending as many sessions as possible, then there are the butterflies who flutter from one session to another within the same timeslot and there are those who thrive in JOMO (joy of missing out). What is evident is the excitement and energy in the air. The place is alive with conversations, discussions, laughter, intimate sharing, play, dance, singing, painting, pottery and other art works happening in different nooks and corners. So far I have attended two LSUCs and am looking forward to the next. The first LSUC I attended in Bangalore, I was content playing with my daughter. The only sessions I attended were on homeschooling and unschooling. During the second LSUC I felt more confident in facilitating sessions. I was part of the wholeholding team and co-facilitated the You Lead talks where people volunteered to talk about their life stories in six minutes and facilitated discussions on unschooling and learning spaces.

LSUC is a completely safe place. Hugging and holding hands is encouraged as it helps people see new possibilities for creativity and action. When someone experiences freedom and feels valued for being themselves, they also feel responsible and value the personal choices made by other participants. People thus display respect for someone’s need for solitude or for not wanting to hug or hold hands or choices of clothing or selection of sessions, etc. The only rule that is openly spoken about is that the space is an alcohol and drug free zone and people found abusing this rule can be asked to leave. People who feel violated also have the freedom to talk about it and a group of participants usually volunteer to be part of the team resolving issues. During both the LSUCs I attended, never once did I worry about my children’s safety. Never did I have to panic or get anxious when my children weren’t within my sight. I knew that they were safe and that there were many who would willingly take care of them when required.

Organized on the principles of ‘Gift Culture’, there are no donor agencies of sponsors or expensive fees. The event organized on a shoestring budget is open for all, regardless of financial background and ability to pay. Though a contribution amount is suggested, people are asked to contribute whatever they can and co-create the space. LSUC isn’t just a five day experience of paradise. The after-effects continue for the rest of the year. It is an event that gives us hope. It gives us the power to question and explore and search for answers. It builds one’s confidence to break away from socially accepted practices and do things differently. The five days merely demonstrate how we can create magical moments in our lives by making small changes in our ways of life.

LSUC is thus an opportunity to ‘unlearn’ by actually experiencing things differently. The feeling of being accepted makes everyone’s experience more real and devoid of any pretence. People attend LSUC for a variety of reasons. Some come to LSUC to reconnect with the self and connect with others with their heart. Some attend it to delve deeper into homeschooling/unschooling and alternate living. Some attend it to get into a journey of self-exploration and awareness. Some people come to share their talents, experience the talents of others and feel part of a community. I attended LSUC the first time to explore and learn more about homeschooling and unschooling. The second time, I wanted to make deeper connections with people, to share, learn and feel part of the tribe.

Whatever reason brings people to LSUC, the true LSUC spirit is in being the ‘real me’. It is a place where you let your guard down and display your vulnerabilities. No one is going to laugh at you or shoo you off for bursting into a sudden giggle or dancing while in the middle of a session. Here it is okay to cry, laugh, dance, sing, make mistakes, be intimate, talk about the chaos and confusion in your mind or share your wisdom and skill. One finds it difficult to quantify the impact of LSUC. For each, the impact and intensity is different. For me, it gave me the confidence to start unschooling as a family and contribute to the efforts of building a learning community. For a fellow participant, it brought in a sense of belongingness, and for yet another it helped him find his ‘calling’. For many, LSUC is truly a magical experience. Another participant rightly shared, “One can never do justice to the magic created at LSUC through written words. One has to experience it and feel the magic.”

Everyone involved in and deeply passionate about ‘learning’ must experience this magic and become part of a “Learning Society”. For more details visit www.shikshantar.org and join the facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/LSUnconference/.

The author, a mother of three, has been involved in the field of education and development for the past 23 years. She has joined the unschooling movement recently. She writes, facilitates and hosts workshops on learning and development and focuses her energies on unschooling herself and her children. She can be reached at sharmilagovande@gmail.com.

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