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and so, onwards

"..to merge everything you have lived through- false starts, errors, delusions, passions, your loves and your hopes- into your goal, with nothing left over.”

insights: on children

“Ammu ottakki keyari”, she announced with a glee. That roughly translates to “Ammu myself climb”. She just climbed up the window sill all by herself. Ammu is nineteen months old and I have been noticing this demand of ‘I-want-to-do-it myself’  and ‘I-did-it-myself’ glee on her face quite often these days. “Ammu myself drink”, she says grabbing the cup off my hands. “I myself eat”, she says as she reaches out to the plate. “I myself shoe”, she says as I open the shoe rack. “I myself climb”, as we go upstairs to her room.

She wants to do everything by herself. Her surprisingly forceful tone and nonverbal cues make up for the limited vocabulary during those instances when she says, “I myself do!” Nobody is making her ‘want-to-do-it’. Nobody is making her learn how to do it. And what’s intrigued me is also that she has learned to do it all by herself.

 

Every child is unique is a cliché we hear a lot. Yet there is are these common innate traits that a child is born with – that we are all born with. One such innate trait is the ability to learn – by oneself. From walking to talking and everything in between, there is so much I have witnessed my little human learn to do within the first eighteen months of her existence. Even language and number sense – all by herself. This has only strengthened my belief in what John Holt noted –  that for children, “learning is as natural as breathing”.

 

How is it then that we miss out on tapping into this natural learning ability once the child enters the school system? A system where we grown-ups (teachers, parents & society in general) believe that she won’t do anything unless we make her do it; she won’t learn anything unless we make her learn it. That’s what a part of my brain that was conditioned as a teacher believed too.

 

I switched careers to work in the education sector; ‘education reform’ sector, my altruistic self would clarify. And in my eight years of working with teachers, students, schools systems and education reform movements, there has been a constant yearning to go deeper into understanding the child in the context of learning or schooling as we see it today. It started with my stint as a teacher through the Teach For India fellowship. And I continued to miss the obvious even as my career progressed with interventions aimed at education equity – at teacher level, at community level, at whole school level. What did I miss? That the very crux of what we all were attempting to make better viz., the learning of a child, is a natural process. That children need not be made to learn, that a child loves to learn, but not to be taught! How did I miss this? Perhaps it was easy to – much like how the fish did not discover water!

 

There is so much I wished to do in the formative years within the education sector, as a teacher. Yet there’s not much one could do. How could I bring down the four walls that confined the students? How could I stop the school bell from ringing every hour? How could I not follow the time-table that determined what to teach and for how long? Oh, and the saddest part – how could I not test if my students have learned or not? There is an old tale of a monkey that was assigned to take care of a garden. And how did the monkey check if the newly planted saplings were growing or not? By uprooting it every morning to check if it was growing! Such was the task I thought I was entrusted with as a teacher – to make them learn – and then test them akin to uprooting the plants in the pretext assessing if they are growing. That’s pretty much what the system demands of a teacher, from as much as I’ve seen in all these years. The questions I had – the things I wished to change – is also what I’ve heard from teachers across geographies and socioeconomic backgrounds.

 

“That’s how it’s been done all these years. What else can we do?” is a convenient excuse I’ve heard teachers and schools share as they dutifully carry on many of the meaningless activities within the four walls of a classroom. And from whatever I have witnessed of alternative attempts within the system, viz. something like ‘childcentered’ and ‘activity based’ learning has only added to my worries. All of it seems an attempt to ‘make the child learn’ and test what has been learned. What’s wrong with that? Well, there is so much a child is capable of learning, in a way they are naturally programmed to. And what we do the moment a child enters school is to forget that nature of the child and attempt what we’ve attempted for ages in the name of schooling. For a child, for whom till then ‘learning has been as natural as breathing’, everything we do to make them learn becomes meaningless. I have come to believe that this is where we, teachers/educators, need to focus – to understand and respect the very nature of the child in the learning process.

 

What exactly can we do? I don’t fully know yet. In all honesty, I am writing this even as I contemplate home-schooling my own child. What I am seeking to find however is what we can do to  tap into the natural learning process of the child. I am searching for solutions that puts the child first in the attempt to school them. How can a teacher within the system, where a good majority of our next generation is ‘made to learn’, achieve this?

 

The impetus to write about this and figure it out has been triggered by my year-long interactions with a retired government school teacher, Rajendran Thamarapura and my current association with Qrius Learning Initiatives, his attempt at sharing and evolving what he developed as a solution to enable teachers overcome the limitations in bringing a natural learning process into the classroom. A lot of what I read, heard, saw and experienced over the past eight years is a baggage I carry. These experiences naturally influence my perspectives and convictions about children and how they learn. I am writing this as I continue to explore. Will write more to ask, to share, to seek, and to understand

via on children and learning…

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in a relationship

5th April 2016

I saw her for the first time on the afternoon of this New Year’s day. It was not love at first sight. At least, not the moment I saw her. It was ten hours later, staring through the glass walls of the coffee shop at 2 past mid-night that I first pondered this. It was not until many weeks later that she saw me. Well, she did see me all the while as I was always around. Yet it was many weeks later that she looked me in the eye with some sense of recognition. And then one fine day she looked and smiled. And then slowly she started looking and smiling more often. We started communicating and now the foundation for a life-long relationship has been laid. Or so I have been thinking. Maybe she really is not. I really didn’t know, but I wanted to know! Is this a one-sided affair?

InstagramCapture_70638133-1a6c-46da-8220-6d3cc17b9c5a

 It’s been more than three months now since that first day. I have spent almost all of this time away from my job and distracted from tasks I had to do. I spent as much time possible watching her, listening to her. And in the spaces in between, when I’ve had time to myself, I was thinking about and re-calibrating myself for her. Sometimes it strikes me that all these thoughts and feelings, its about me and not her. This new relationship, it is helping me lay the foundation for a bold and alternative life-style choice. “To invent your own life’s meaning”, as Bill Watterson would put it!

Added: 19th June 2016IMG-20160618-WA0011

Somebody wished me a “Happy Fathers’ day” today, with a toothless smile. Well it was a whatsapp message from her first love, her mom! It’s almost six months now that I’ve known her. Over the last two months, I’ve spend lesser time with her than initial months. That still hasn’t kept me from thinking about and wondering what she is up to each moment am away from her. She now has started knowing me better, recognizes my voice and has a grin on her face when she sees me. And this time am sure there is a two-way communication! That foundation for the life-long relationship I was wondering about previously seems to be shaping up well 🙂

career: my first job

a person’s progress or general course of action through life or through a phase of life, as in some profession or undertaking

Reading some responses for a quora.com question on ‘career advice’ made me look up the definition of ‘career’. That general course of action we undertake through a phase of life starts much earlier than we think it does. It struck me that my first job started while I was in 8th grade. No, I did not take up a part-time job to make extra money. I only took a resolution back in December of 1998 to ‘work’ hard at school to achieve good scores in my SSLC (Secondary School Leaving Certificate) exams – which was more than 2 years away. Sometime in the middle of that year there was an instance of me having to stay outside class for non-payment of school fees. Though I’ve seen some classmates regularly been called out for the same earlier, it was the first time it happened to me. It was probably the first time it hit me that my parents, like most other middle class parents of their time, was stretching beyond theirs means to provide for my schooling. Doing well at school then became a responsibility – a job.

It still shouldn’t have been a problem after that though. I was always among the top 3 rank holders in class. Never a first rank holder, for  there was never an effort to score better than what I could just do. I simply enjoyed reading and learning and did what I could to show my learning during tests. I had found schooling effortless and enjoyable till that point. But then the goal became to score good marks, to perform better – to compete. Maintaining my scores became a task. Reading textbooks which I once devoured beforehand out of curiosity now became tedious. The stories and analogies teachers used during class which opened windows to unknown worlds and imagination became boring.

In hindsight, that period would have helped me shape up my career on a different trajectory if I had continued to approach schooling the way I did before. I had wanted to write, to dig up the earth and uncover stories from the past, to paint, to make furniture(yeah, to be a carpenter), to save animals from extinction. But it was not to be. My first job was to be a student of a system and not of life as it is. The first job I took then naturally influenced future decisions. That phase extended beyond high school to secondary school and then college. Eight and half years, till I graduated! And am sure almost all others with me at that time, intentionally or not, took up their first jobs then itself. Or maybe even earlier than I did. What would we do if we got a chance to go through it all over again? Will we make a different choice about our first job? Or will we let it be?

 

 

 

 

 

life: before thirty

Birthday has always been a time for contemplation and review. Most times I get into that space weeks before the birthday.I will be 30 years old soon. 30 sounds and feels scary. While I am still trying to figure out things in life, I’m glad that I am moving forward with much more conviction than last year. I am trying to recollect some of the major happenings/learning from the past decade that has helped me evolve into different person over time – mostly for the better. This is not a list of advice or life-lessons. “We write to taste life twice”, someone had said. I agree!

#1[Year 2005] Not quitting college 

“You cannot connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards”, he had said. I believed it!

The futility of spending months together in uninteresting classes to write a semester exam that needed only a week’s preparation started breaking me towards the end of 2nd year of engineering course. As ridiculous as it may sound, the decision not to quit college happened for one reason – internet access at college/hostel! I had just started discovering the world of internet. The unlimited access to free information and possibility of self-educating myself made me stick through it. One of the first articles that I printed out to re-read was the text of Steve Job’s famous commencement speech!

#2[Year 2008] Quitting my first job

“Many will call me an adventurer – and that I am, only one of a different sort: one of those who risks his skin to prove his platitudes” – Che Guevara

The decision was not an easy one. While there is a longer story to it – when I look back at that time, I had quickly reached a point where I wanted to stop talking and do something about the platitudes we(young professionals) talked about over lunch and coffee. The cliche – of why ‘our politicians no good’ or ‘rich get richer and poor get poorer’  or ‘our education system sucks’. I believed there is something more I could do about it than pretending to care(or not care) during such conversations. Only nine months into my first job I quit and took a six month sabbatical of sorts to figure out ‘what next’.

#3[Year 2009] Becoming a teacher

“While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about” – Angela Schwindt

Of the many opportunities I knocked upon during the quest, the most purposeful one appeared in the form of the ‘Teach For India’ Fellowship that launched that year. It asked for a two-year commitment to teach full time. I chose it over an offer to join a full-time course in photography, another passion I pursued at that time. I knew teaching would be hard. It would push me out of my comfort zone. I knew this was one job where i’d have to risk my skin to prove that it’s possible to push oneself to make a difference. Being a teacher changed me in more ways than I would have imagined. The children taught me more life-lessons in two years than what I had learnt in the 24 years before becoming a teacher.

#4[Year 2011] Hitchhiking home 

“Too often we are so preoccupied with the destination, we forget the journey” – Anonymous

Wanderlust. I’ve loved the wandering and wondering unplanned travel offers. I’ve liked the anonymity in the crowd during such journeys. The travel becomes a journey when you choose to make it one. The three day hitchhiking trip from Pune to Kerala during a birthday weekend in 2011 was one such journey. One that made me experience the sting of reaching the limits of physical and mental exhaustion and helped discover and overcome personal inhibitions. A mysterious calm seemed to catch up with me towards the end of second day. No more compulsion to click pictures or share stories. No more chattering inside the head. Tranquil equanimity. The aftertaste of the journey lasted for weeks.The clarity and conviction in thoughts and action the following weeks was something inexplicable. The profoundness of this one experience was something that later the 10 day Vipassana meditation course or the Inner Engineering retreat at Isha Ashram could not emulate.

#5[Year 2013] Marriage 

“There is no choice more intensely personal, after all, than whom you choose to marry; that choice tells us, to a large extent, who you are” – Elizabeth Gilbert, ‘Committed’

We officially ‘stalked’ each other’s profile on the matrimony site before before hitting it off on Facebook. The question always has been ‘when will I be ready for a commitment?’. In my case, it was sooner than when I wanted it to be and yet intuitively I knew it was now. And her readiness was not defined by the conventional expectations viz., financial stability or material gains over the years(both of which was nil).The sanity and sanctity of the commitment, I believe, boils down to your conviction in getting into a life-long relationship and that intensely personal choice about accepting each other for who you are.

#6[Year 2015] Becoming an (expectant)parent 

“Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of humanity” ~Rabindranath Tagore

If all goes well, I will be a father this New Year’s eve. And from what I have seen among peers, parenthood apparently pushes you to work more, earn more and be more busy in the pretext setting up a good future for your child. The days following the confirmation of her pregnancy, it started hitting me – that despite the conscious choice of career and work,  the disease of ‘being busy’ has taken over life. The biggest issue, I began to contemplate, will not be shortage of money and comfort the child may require for a better life, but shortage of time and opportunities to let her evolve into a better human being than her parents were. With the next decade starting off with parenthood, the imperative is to zoom out a bit and put things in perspective

insights: every child

Childrens’ day reminds me of every child that’s come into my life. I’ve forgotten their names. Most of their names. Of the children who touched my life. As a teacher, a volunteer. As a brother, a relative. As a fellow traveler, a stranger. As a passerby, a fellow human. Some even disguised – as grown-ups. At the school. At home. On the road. On a train. I have memories. But I have forgotten their names. I have pictures. I know how they look. But I can’t recollect their names. Some I didn’t ask their names. And sometimes I even didn’t smile back. They have shared smiles. Shared stories even as I sat nodding. Poked me. Pulled my hair. Asked me questions. Pestered me for better answers. Taught me.Taught me more than I could teach them. Spoke to me. Some even without words. I’ve sat alongside. And stared into space. Looked in their eyes. In joy. In wonder. I’ve looked away too. In sorrow. In helplessness.

I see them coming into people’s lives. In multitudes. The new born child. As the child they like to call their own, ‘mine’. They are all over my friend’s facebook walls. And shared photos. And I hear them. Over phone calls to a cousin. Or a friend. At my neighbor’s. On the street. And there’s many more to come. Whose names I don’t know yet. One of them might come into my life too.  How different will that child be?  Won’t she be like every child? Often makes me wonder. Will I call only this one ‘my own’? Will this child be for others what every child has been to me? Will I stop calling every child my child?

insights: i am because we are

“..The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly” – Theodore Roosevelt

Arena

Some times you make choices. You enter the arena. Relate at different levels to the ‘ground reality’. Believe you’re doing more and being more. You’ve spent so much time(or so you think). You pat yourself at the back for having been the doer of deeds. And then you come across another breed of people. You know it, their deeds out weigh your intent and efforts. They do it because they cannot afford not to. They accept their shortcomings  yet plough on. They wish they could do more. Wish they could be more. They’ve spent their life time. The arena is their reality. And you realise it’s this arena you chose to enter. Their arena. Do you tell them you’ve come to help? Try to sense what they would ask if you offered help? Or have the equanimity they display in accepting their reality? Will it remind you of the times in the past where you’ve attempted to make their reality yours?

Love

Visited a SSA(Sarva Siksha Abhyan) funded school and shelter for children from the tribal settlements spread across the mountains. They come in for the food(noon meals), clothing(school uniforms)and shelter(it’s a residential facility)and to get an education – in that order. The quality of any of the fore-mentioned doesn’t matter as long as they get something. The couple running the facility have been in the arena for about thirteen years now. They’ve visited every single tribal settlement there and listened. Around eighteen different settlements more than 20 kilometers away. Despite the mistrust and lack of reciprocation of empathy and efforts – they’ve lived on. They chose to. So far. The conversations that I witnessed was about relocating sub-sets of students from the center to various other places – charity homes, back to their settlements and other places where they might have a safe environment and access to food-clothing-shelter and some inputs for learning. All this because the center is on the verge of closing down – funds – multiple stakeholders -vested interests – bureaucracy. The only people who seemed to care(about the children) were the couple. And all this as we get to know that in a week’s time they will not be together. Their ‘own’ children will all be dispersed across the area. The children will no longer have their home away from home. The equanimity they displayed even as they narrated the challenges was startling. Every word spoken to the children, every action of the children in their presence – flowed with love. I didn’t have to ask the couple ‘why they do what they do’. And to say they were ‘driven by love’ is so simple a statement, that it’s hard to believe.

Gratitude

That afternoon I also met a lady at the Forest Department run school in the Anamalai Tiger Reserve.  She’s been in charge of the school. About a hundred students, up to 8th grade. Six teachers, temporarily placed by the department. Like the previous story, children come in from the tribal settlements in the forests. I hear stories of new levels of apathy and lack of exposure and sense of helplessness from parents. When she came in there were two students attending the school. One of them was her own daughter.  It’s been twenty years. She been here every single working day for the past twenty years. She’s still smiling. She had cancelled a leave to take care of her hospitalized husband and came in that afternoon to meet us. I couldn’t help but ask ‘why?’. Why would she do this. Two things she said. One, she is a survivor. She was thought to be dead after being treated at the hospital after an accident. She woke up in a fit of cough and vomiting the next morning. She says, “when I was gifted my life back, what better could I do with it than express gratitude by committing completely for a cause larger than me”. I don’t have an iota of doubt if she would put in another  twenty years. She will.

Synergy

And the second thing she said was something in the lines of, “I am because we are”. The ‘we’ she is talking about is the other people in the arena – the bunch of people I was fortunate to go with. A super enthusiastic Microsoft resource manager from Banglore,  who is also co-founder of digital platform to bridge the divide between teacher and students in a remote location – like the classrooms  in the above two stories. A deeply introspective chemical engineer  working with a reputed car manufacturer in Chennai – who will be in charge of the volunteer/teachers. A couple of wild-life enthusiasts : one an engineering graduate working in a software firm and the other an events manager in one of the colleges around here – both co-founders of a non-profit for wildlife conservation and activism, who in the process of doing this for the last two years have a deeper insight into their lives and needs for their future. A fresh graduate who just started his career and has joined hands with the wild life enthusiasts. An articulate engineering graduate turned language teacher who underplays the role he has played in building relationships and setting up the synergy we were sharing! All of us sharing a cab. Most of us meeting each other in person for the first time. Hitting off with discussions on the ‘context of education and development’ and ‘initiatives to address inequity’, economics and ecology and human kind in general, asking and sharing, learning and gaining perspective in the pursuit of finding meaning in deeds we do.

Ubuntu

From the comfort of the cab and our intellectually simulating discussions and debates on how to save the world, we stepped out at two different places that we intended to. That is where I came across the couple running the center and the head mistress of the forest department school. That’s where questions popped up in my head and more than listening and asking – my mind went into the ‘out of comfort zone’ mode. Is their reality mine? Why else a I sharing that little space in their lives now? I was again trying hard to connect to their reality. I’ve tried that as a teacher. The classroom was my arena for two years. I’ve tried that for two more years, where a dozen teachers and their classrooms were my arena.

What I heard when I tried to listen wasn’t an epiphany. I think I have heard it at different times in the past four years. But I think I’m starting to hear it a little more louder. A little more nearer. A little more clearer. What I heard was “I am because we are”!

insights: version

You can’t tell people profound things like,”like the empty space in a Chinese painting,the time in which nothing happens has it’s purpose”. Telling that wouldn’t serve the purpose. So much for our quick-fix approach to fix things we think need to be fixed. It demands some of us to tell some other people exactly what to do and how to do it. The urgency of the task at hand is enormous to let nothing happen. It would be best for some of us to tell some others exactly what to do and how to do it for we think we are a version of our race who tremble indignation at the injustice. What injustice and why now can be put in words but still remain unanswered. For words can supersede it’s meaning. Means can get confused with objectives. Classifications and categories can take precedence over knowledge and experience. In doing so, we believe we help someone else create a version of themselves. We(the tribe) are creating a newer version of ourselves. Evolved? Better?

memories: eyes

A handshake and a train of words and the smile one smiles while breaking ice, a mysterious facade wiped away; by the piercing gaze, more than the smile or words.

Across the almost empty reading room, looking past the glass door and bookshelves, the most intriguing of thoughts dispersed; and interpreted with surprising ease.

Down the hallway in the crowd, far enough to not hear what was spoken, the most intimate of feelings conveyed; without the spoken word or being drafted on the phone.

At the table with strangers and friends, the loudest of music and songs and talks and fun and all, the exasperation expressed through a glance; almost fearlessly, waiting to be interpreted.

Turned around to look one last time while receding away, into the road. The lips were still smiling and saying words that couldn’t be heard no more; even as tiny drops in the dark glazed eyes sparkled in the sun.

memories: in december

Songs of Kabir

Camus’ The Rebel

some insights

from

‘Notes to Myself ‘

on a train

in december

Anandwan first

Sewagram next

temperature dip

nightfall

almost freezing

am exagerating

open air bath

morning walk

moring sun

open fields

birds bats langurs

kutis

amongst trees

Nai-Talim

the school

kids, students

vegetable garden

spinning weaving

teachers share

humility exemplified

pondering

watching

the girl

who doodled

then

a Tolkien quote

that

said something

about

the Road

and the Door

eager feet

paths and errands

nightfall, again

temperature dip

dinner, simple

walk

bon fire

singing

owl on the roof

another walk

return

empty night

morning sun

morning walk, early

breakfast, simple

fellow fellows

prayer ground

first hyms

then, silence

reflection groups

anonymity, no more

deep insights

shared

connected

all done

no good byes

no stopping

the thoughts

that began

flowing

by

the

bus window

along

the

rail tracks

bus ride, again

fall asleep

waking up

to

the familiar

walk back

to

the more familiar

connected, again

coffe-day corner

emails

facebook

the urge

to Like

to Share

to write

a Note

anything

about

a new year

no

Preview

too long

never mind

Publish

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