Education’s Planned Murder!

Life is a series of unexpected events, mostly out of our control. Similarly, love is an instinctive, indefinable emotion that strikes us, unannounced. How and why then, can learning, and teaching, NOT be spontaneous?

As a teacher and educator, I’m certain I’ll ruffle a good few feathers with this post. But then my own education has always compelled me to speak my mind. I’d joined a school briefly as a teacher in Bombay. Then I joined a school back home in Jaipur as well. Both those experiences, maybe not personally but certainly through my interaction and observation of the ‘modern’ schooling system, the teachers, and the students, left me a little disillusioned. Why? Because a vast majority of a teacher’s time, effort and energy seems to be devoted to obsessive planning, pre-planning and administrative work – leaving the educator little or no will,  excitement, enthusiasm, to actually TEACH, and god forbid, INSPIRE any kind of DISCOVERY

Daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly. These are the different categories of Lesson Plans that teachers are required to submit to the school administration, in ADVANCE! Depending on the board and the school, these lesson plans need to be detailed to the minutest possible degree, including for instance, what ‘examples’ a teacher will use in class to illustrate a specific point of a particular lesson! I appreciate the need and merit in planning, I really do. But the way we were taught at school was a whole lot more on-the-fly. And I mean that in the most positive sense possible. No two students are alike. No two teachers are alike. The way a students responds to a particular teacher, to an example, to stimuli, to a methodology of teaching – varies vastly. There are too many dynamic variables for this to be standardized. Besides, where’s the element of surprise, or fun, or creativity then? If our students are taught like they’re characters in a circus, then not only will the teacher be perceived as the proverbial ‘ring master’, the subject too will be despised, forever!

This profuse planning, to my mind, is killing the very essence and joy of invention, self-discovery, visceral education. We are, as a result, creating clones. An army of dull, brainwashed robots that might go on to secure decently paying jobs – but will have little else to contribute, to society, and more importantly, to themselves and to their own lives.

Individuality, peculiarity, specialty, uniqueness, evolution, realization, actualization – these are concepts that I’m afraid we are KILLING at the very onset of a child’s educational experience. While schools proclaim ‘experiential’ and ‘experimental’ learning in their large banners and social media brochures; what they offer, by and large, is a thoroughly mundane, thought-thwarting curriculum where both teacher and student are merely going through the motions, waiting anxiously for that school bell to sound, so they can escape the drudgery that the otherwise exciting, invigorating, school-day has become.

 Are we going to give our young generations to come this thoughtless a sense of self?

 

New OLD Parent!

Anuja and I got married in 2008. Nearly a decade ago. Ever since, initially subtly, subsequently not as subtly, friends, family and ‘well wishers’ started advising us to have a child. And we kept putting it off, furnishing from the most cliche to some pretty far fetched alibis. In the meantime, all our contemporaries, school and college friends, cousins around the same age, were having them babies galore!

This necessitated a rather interesting phase in our marital lives. Because people we’d normally hang out with got busy with new parenthood, we had to seek company elsewhere. In Bombay at the time, we fell happily into a friend circle that comprised mostly of folks about a decade older than us, couples whose kids had gone past the ‘constant supervision’ stage with children well into their pre-teens (which brings its own set of unique parenting challenges but at least does not demand the kind of time and effort that the initial years of a baby does). We were blissful and merry, having become an integral part of this large parents  group that I suspect was trying to reclaim its own youth, having spent the past ten odd years in dedicated service of their children.

Between Anuja and I, we were sure that we didn’t want to have a child in Bombay. For all its libertarian values, free-spirited ethos, and rewards for the driven, the thought of having a kid there and have the kid say, “there’s my school on the 2nd floor of that building”; to two North Indians who’d been fortunate enough to attend schools and colleges with a ‘campus’, this was an inconceivable situation.

Then some four years back, we moved bag and baggage to Jaipur, my hometown. And though we didn’t discuss it specifically, I think we’d both individually, and as a couple, arrived at that point. The point where we felt we were ready. And so we had our beautiful daughter Krisha.

Krisha is now almost a year old, I am almost 38, Anuja, 37. By any standard, we’d be considered ‘older’ parents. Especially in a city like Jaipur (that errs on the side of orthodox), we are at least a decade older than couples who’s have kids around the same time as us! That makes for an interesting situation again, thankfully, mostly a humorous one. I keep joking with Anuja, that these parents want to themselves address Anuja and I as ‘uncle aunty’, what will their kids (who are Krisha’s contemporaries) call us!?

I’ve also come to the realization that I am too old for this! Don’t get me wrong, I am ecstatic being a parent, particularly to a baby girl. But boy is it hard to keep up. I mean literally keep up. I’m getting physiotherapy for my back as I write this, my knees hurt, and I feel exhausted carrying, chasing, and playing with Pishu!

But here’s the thing. There really isn’t a right or a wrong time for a couple to have a child. There will always be justified arguments on both sides – to have kids early, and to have kids late. But this is beyond cold logic. It is a decision that ought to be made when it ‘feels’ right. For both parties involved. Its an intangible, unquantifiable, almost indefinable feeling that you either get, or you don’t get. And if you get it, then take the plunge. All the merits of having kids when we’re young, all the disadvantages of having them when we’re not so young, pale when the time is ‘right’ for YOU!

Anuja and I are absolutely loving being parents, even though we’d be considered ‘older’ parents. Age is just a number. The Time however, must be RIGHT!

Visually Enhanced!

Now, before you think that here is an educator propagating screen-time for young children who are already obsessing over i pads and such, I am NOT. I entirely appreciate the need to, and the struggle of warding off young children from unnecessary ‘dependence’ on visual-aids.

Having said that, what I am most definitely advocating, is the use of the visual medium as a tool to expose, sensitize, and educate slightly older students, particularly students from middle to high school.

As many of you may already be aware, I am a great believer in embracing the power of the visual medium when I teach my students. We are living in a visual world. Children are positively predisposed to the medium. So instead of fighting it, why not use it to their advantage. I always therefore make it a point to screen Short Films and Documentaries (of course age-appropriate) that provoke thought in a young generation that is otherwise largely concerned with their core-academic studies and/or less meaningful pursuits. Be it a film about the Environment or saving Animals; film as a tool is, in most cases, immediately accepted by students (as opposed to other more traditional means such as a Lecture or a Book). Their acceptance sustains their interest and subliminally conveys the sensitive message one if trying to get across to them, in a non-preachy, and relatively less mundane way.

Even as parents, rather than shun the idea of getting our children to use screens, it might be a better idea to instead, tailor the content, so they don’t end up watching rubbish. The world is a place with many pressing issues. And there is a dire need to make a new generation aware of these problems and to sensitize them, since they are the ones who will have to face these situations and come up with solutions. For this, the Moving Image can become an ally in the education of our children and enhance their learning exponentially. Let us Visually Enhance them!

 

A Blank Canvas Full of Filth?

About thirteen years ago, I was in a bad place. Quite disillusioned. I’d lost my way. So I wrote this little poem. Again, quite amateurish when I read it now. I thought however, it does convey my feelings at the time quite vividly. The world, a blank canvas. And depending on one’s stage in life, it can be a beautiful painting or a painful riotous mess. Here’s my take on it, from over a decade ago!

 ‘And All That Jazz’

Fast cars

Speedy lanes

Rakish boys

Foolish dames

 

Chases, places, faces

Quests in vain

Humans littered

Dot the endless chain

 

Play their parts

Love or hate

Or clean slate?

 

Methodical madness

Serial killers

Distressed damsels

 

Untamed flowering love

Heartaches & heart breaks

Unholy consumerism

Nationalistic fervor in drought

Intellectual voyeurism

 

Emotional plethora

Repertoire of sins

Conflict, battle

Some you loose

Some you win

 

Religious biases

Biased doctors

Wicked copters

Twisted tales

Clandestine counters

 

Cheating wives

Cuckold husbands

Divorced minds

‘Vows’ in dust bins

 

Generation Potter

Dope head daughters

Minds in gutters

Sterile rotters

Bashful leaders

Cultural feeders

Perverse needers

 

Gyrating bellies

Insatiable appetites

Travoltas and Kellys

 

Nations at war

Agendas of peace lie tore

Imitation products galore

Pleasure parlors

And HIV whores

 

Sweaty pores

Impure shores

Sliding doors

Sights to abhor

 

Philadelphia sadness

Life’s marathon

Sporadic gladness

 

Bitter sweet symphonies

Endangered species

Cheerleading sweeties

Illogical treaties

 

Some silent

Some squeaky

Some clean

Some freaky

 

This world

This life

Canvas of diversity

And all that jazz

 

 

 

 

Speaking of Nostalgia…

 

So my last post was about creating Happy Memories for our children; a thought that stemmed from my own nostalgia. And speaking of nostalgia, I found these pictures of one of my birthday dinners at home in Bombay a few years ago – where, unsurprisingly, I was playing the fool, entertaining my friends, and generally goofing about. Especially a few drinks down, as many of you are familiar with, I love to have an audience!!

The pictures that I chanced upon however, and they’re the ones I’ve shared at the beginning of this post; reminders they may be of my party-tomfoolery – are symbolic of a greater, more significant truth. You see, what I am doing in these pictures, is mimicking a few of my school masters! And if I may say so myself, despite NO ONE in my ‘audience’ knowing who these masters are; everyone still found the impersonations, hilarious! Now.. Sure that’s because I’m a great mimic.. 🙂 More importantly though, it is telling testimony of the huge impact these masters have had on my life; almost 25 years since having graduated high school, I’m still imitating them! It is true. Imitation really is the greatest form of flattery!

I’ve spoken about this at length before,  so I will try and keep the ‘lectury’ part of my post to a minimal. We MUST expose our kids to passionate, eccentric, inspiring people and teachers. The reason people mimic their masters is not because they want to poke fun at them. Quite the contrary. It is because these sometimes mad, quirky, selfless, nutty-teachers gave us life lessons that have become invaluable.

Here’s saluting the ‘imperfect’ teacher. Because life’s imperfections, can not be taught, by perfect people!

What Qualifies Someone To Teach?

In India, in order to teach, a B Ed Degree is mandatory. I present to you, with no disrespect intended to the millions of teachers who have secured their B Ed Degrees, an alternate scenario. One where, in my limited experience, the engagement, enthusiasm, participation and learning of a class of pupils, has little or nothing to do with the teacher’s ‘qualification’. I teach from Primary School all the way up to College and beyond. And I have found that EFFECTIVE teaching demands a few KEY elements…

  1. Earning Trust – For a teacher to earn the trust of a class, is vital. But this has two big prerequisites. One, that the teacher student relationship be given TIME to develop. Two, that the relationship itself, CAN NOT be based on FEAR. There will be NO trust building in that case. There is a fine line between FEAR and RESPECT. And I believe it can be maintained.
  2. Entertaining Education – We live in a world where students have access to an array of ‘instant entertainment’ – be it youtube, online games, social media sites/platforms; all on their cell phones. THIS is what teachers are competing against. So in order to ENGAGE students, a TEACHER must be an ENTERTAINER, a PERFORMER.
  3. Cultural Context, Similarities – In order to ‘connect’ with students, teachers should be able to ‘speak their language’ – literally, metaphorically, culturally. Unfortunately, because of how most of our society is structured, our teachers and students belong to completely contrasting universes. So where then, can be the commonality? How many teachers will be able to have a chat with a student about Bieber? How many students, will be able to identify with a teacher’s last family holiday?
  4. Respect Students – Respect can not be demanded. And it is certainly not one-way. A teacher today is living a fallacy if he/she thinks that the teacher is some beacon of knowledge and the students are empty vessels. A teacher HAS to respect a student intellectually and individually. I learn everyday from each student of mine. But if a teacher is closed-off to that notion, chances are there will be very little engagement.

I have been teaching for not TOO long now. But I have made some observations that have been corroborated time and again. That a teacher NEEDS to know about what he or she is teaching, and along with that, know the students’ world. And in that world, no B Ed is required!

Write Right – Myths About Writing!

Writing… That holy grail of creative pursuits and self-expression that to most, is scary, unattainable,  insurmountable. While I am not claiming that it is easy, what I do want to share with all of you, is that the REASONS a lot of us assume it is IMPOSSIBLE, are WRONG!

When I teach Writing, be it at a school, a college, an independent workshop or at home to an individual student; I often come across certain perceptions that have taken hold, and are difficult to shake-off. So to all you budding writers out there, here is my list of MYTHS & MISCONCEPTIONS about ‘effective writing’

  1. NO FANCY LANGUAGE is NEEDED – There is a common misconception that in order to write a compelling, engaging piece of fiction (especially), one needs to be some kind of Language Pandit. UNTRUE. The point of good writing is not to use big, flowery words. Sure, it helps to have a wider vocabulary at one’s disposal rather than the alternative. Having said that, it is NOT necessary. Many amateur writers become unnecessarily ‘language-lavish’, which, rather than serving the purpose of the story, draws attention and focus away from it!
  2. DEGREE IN LITERATURE – Similar to the earlier point; many people seem to believe that one has to have ‘studied’ the subject (language), in order to write. Sometimes this is also interpreted in a way where people believe that one MUST have ‘read’ lots, to write. Both are UNTRUE again. Sure, reading helps. But like a dear author friend of mine always says, reading too much, cramps his originality!
  3. NOTHING INTERESTING HAPPENS AROUND ME – In other words, people feel they do not have an engaging enough PLOT; perhaps not realizing that if we were to really analyze a book, a film, a story that we really liked, we will come to the realization that it wasn’t the ‘action’ or the ‘events’ that got us hooked on to that story but rather its primary CHARACTER/CHARACTERS. Great stories are much less about what’s going on ‘outside’, much more about what is going on ‘inside’ a PERSON.

The Skill-Set that is required to become a good writer are completely different from what we tend to assume. And the good news is, with a little discipline, ANYONE can learn them. In an age where everywhere is going visual and there is less and less ‘written word’, a romantic like I can only hope that we as a society do not let the endless creative possibilities and the resultant joy that writing provides, become extinct. Because while a picture might be worth a thousand words, those thousand words are able to ‘paint’ the picture; and that has immense value!

Open Minds, Free Hearts

Yet another brutal reminder of terrorism. The New York attack. Barely 10 hours back. In Lower Manhattan! My brother, his girlfriend, cousins, countless friends; all a stone’s throw from the scene!

A lot of ‘noise’ is made on this subject. There will be news debates galore, social media will be buzzing in the aftermath of this nth brazen violation of our collective freedom.

Perhaps one way of solving this deep-rooted terror problem is to really start with the younger generation. I always try to sensitize my students about the problems of the world we live in.  Terrorism is a tricky one. What is the right way of introducing such an ugly truth to young minds? How, when, where? One has to be careful not to upset an innocent mind; at the same time not bring up kids in a rose-tinted fool’s paradise.

I leave you with the link to a short film. In my senior grades, I tend to use this beautiful short film to initiate an important discussion. Perhaps, this is one way?

The Loss of Innocence?

The innocence of childhood and the fear of loss are beautifully depicted in this Marathi short film (with subtitles) that I chanced upon just yesterday. The tension in the film is real, and palpable.

I thought I’d simply share the film and urge you to watch it, rather than ramble on myself 🙂

Does the film have a larger message? If yes, what could it be?

Men Can Not Cry!

Of all the issues in this world that I have been trying to sensitize my students about in the past three years, Gender Awareness, true Acceptance, and Equality tops the list. At least in my opinion, unless we as a people, as a global society can view each other as part of one big family, despite, and along with all the diversity, preferences, orientation that exists – how can we solve the world’s other problems and exist as a happy race?

So through my classes, at schools and colleges, at home or in my workshops; I like to keep talking to young students about Gender. That not only the LGBT community, not just women; men too, have been victims of Gender Stereotypes. This shoe-boxing has thwarted no ONE Gender, but all. It has stifled an individual’s natural instinct to be real.

In one of my classes only yesterday, a relatively young student of mine, when asked about whether Gender Stereotypes affect men, said, “men can not cry!” It was bittersweet to hear. Bad, because it was  brutal reminder of reality. Good, because this rather young student, was so AWARE of the society we live in. And that gave me hope!

As educators, parents, mentors, guides and guardians, it is our DUTY to create a world for our children that is FREE of Gender Bias & Stereotype. Where a man is free to arrange a bunch of flowers in a vase. Where a woman is accepted as an EQUAL artist in a film. Where two men can share their blossoming love, not just with one another, but with the world. Where EACH person, can live with PRIDE & DIGNITY.

As I have often remarked, these are UNCOMFORTABLE subjects for us to talk about. But should that be the case? Should we not talk, expose, educate, sensitize the world’s next generation, to be HUMAN first?