What we want to inherit from you

We wrote this for a talk to trigger tonight’s panel discussion on Individual Responsibility towards Coimbatore, organized by CATS (Coimbatore Arts and Theatrical Society). Do you agree with this, youth of Coimbatore?

Rajendra Chozha was one of the greatest conquerors of India. Under him, the Chola influence reached up to the Ganges, in Bengal and right across the ocean to Singapore and Indonesia. Although his achievements were many, they were still built on the empire that his father Raja Raja Chozha had built from scratch. Motilal Nehru’s idea of modern education shaped Jawaharlal Nehru, and I daresay we attribute our freedom to that man. Shekhar’s idea of introducing technology to the music industry came to us through Dileep Kumar, better known as A R Rahman.

What’s beautiful is that all through history, one generation had the determination to rise, and the following generations only went forward. As I stand here representing all of us eager youth, I hope you’ll be the generation — and I quote Al Gore here — “the generation about which, a thousand years from now, philharmonic orchestras and poets and singers will celebrate by saying, they were the ones that found it within themselves to solve this crisis…”

Now the crisis Al Gore is talking of is not just the ice caps that are melting — the crisis is the power shortage and water shortage in Coimbatore. We don’t expect a sparkling green city when we grow up – but we want you to begin the process of undoing the harm. We’re eager to be a part of this action, now! – take us with you to the clean the lake and let’s take a nice walk instead of driving to some place. Talk to us about our rights, and together let’s proactively fulfil our duties. Inform us, involve us, inspire us. You need to be models for us dear adults, because we’re so good at imitating! The values that parents want to teach pass down so effortlessly when they practice what they preach. We want your values – to build our dreams. Our own dreams.

And the dreams might not be engineering and medicine. 70% of the people who take these courses don’t become engineers because they find their calling somewhere else. Why then, do they take so many years to start working on their dreams? Because there are not enough choices in school, and not enough freedom to make their own choices. I say, bring into school the opportunity to pursue all the things that we pursue in the real world. Academics, entrepreneurship, arts, community service… You say “Why…it’s all going fine only…” and I say WHY NOT? Two things are very clear: First, that each child comes with unique interests and energies. And second, that the world has opened up immensely. There are professions and activities and movements that you wouldn’t have imagined 10 years ago.

Let’s bring schools out of isolation and create a an environment where students engage with this exciting world. They’ll pick up things before you can figure how to use a touch screen phone. They’ll astound you with the way they sell things, build things, find solutions, improve lives and build a better world. And to guide them and facilitate their journey, let’s create  empowered teachers. Teachers who are eager to share their knowledge. Teachers who will  begin to take pride in their jobs and themselves. In the current system, there is a certain lack of self-respect – in teachers as well as students. And this is simply because not everybody can score centums! Just imagine the low self esteem of children who are just NOT built for the system – the teachers who spend all their energy trying to make it happen. Epic fail, from the start.

If we could draw on the immense power of schools, and turn even a small part of the collective energy into making Coimbatore a better place – we’d see nothing short of a miracle. Come on, make *us* a part of building *our* future. The process of inheritance begins now. I urge one school to use their power to start such a social drive – with kids and teachers and parents – and I guarantee that we’ll meet our targets with ease.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. There are tens of thousands of dreamers in this city, raring to go and eager to do. They are this optimistic city’s children. Catch them while they’re young and hot!

Thank you.

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Trust.Children.

An amazing teacher from RV introduced me to the editor of Teacher Plus magazine this summer. I wrote this for the magazine, explaining the reasons (and beliefs?) backing my decision to unschool. Realizing that this could be a great way to reach teachers,  mom and I decided to address it more directly 🙂 Here goes.

All I am saying … can be summed up in two words: Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.

John Holt

***

(Authors note: Do not read this in a closed space. If u cannot step outdoors, at least step out of  your past experiences, future expectations and your  present conditions. Because this is as much for you as for your children)

Breathe.

Life is learning. As we look back at each day in the months and years we’ve come through, they seem alike to each other. But take one yesterday out of the journey and it’s a missing puzzle piece. What makes each day so different from the other? Look at it…It was a new step up in some learning. It holds true for everybody – we all learn. Everyday.

This learning is shaped by the experiences we have – some we choose, some just come upon us These experiences are of all stripes – the discovery of a shape in the clouds,  a fleeting thought while falling asleep, a bout of anger after conflict in the playground or a fresh mindset after travelling to another culture. The beauty of experiences is in the variety; the strength of it in the quality of learning we gain. To direct this experience-based learning actively on a large scale, guided  by our desires and interests is life-learning.

I read about life learning a few months ago. I brushed it away thinking it was idyllic and worked more only for talks. But the little acorn of ideas was planted firmly, and it grew. It grew into an enormous oak of thought that began to take root in my life. I understood that it was important to make learning choices based only on interests, because it works best. And after a small transition period, I began an active journey of life – learning.

I read a lot and write a bit, as opportunities come by. My activities include practising Bharatanatyam and studying allied arts. My list of regular activities used to be longer, but now, with limited areas the focus has increased manifold. One of these passions might well turn out to be my career! Also, there is time to do a lot of more short-term or sporadic things such as conducting programmes for children, learning web design, travel, cooking etc. as there is no externally dictated schedule binding me. There is harmony in what I like and what I do.
And I  manage to do this because I quit school.
If the real goal is to’ learn to do’ it is quite possible in the absence of school too , because there are so many sources one can learn from. As for the mandatory requirements, there is the option of open schooling.
I am completing the formal class 12 equivalent examinations through NIOS. Not only is it a nationally recognised board, but it also allows for wider freedom in subjects, methods and pace of learning.
In school, there are only six subjects or 3 streams at the higher level during the K-12 years. So much of those precious growing up years are spent in the same routine of rote learning from rote teaching. Learning is largely theoretical –bounded by limiting prescribed syllabi only.

While the key to improving  is encouragement, punishment and humiliation and graded labelling is often sought after.  But most importantly, their abilities are taken for granted. The benchmark for all is academic excellence – assuming that it is the only way forward for EVERY CHILD. As impressionable, innocent minds, they trust and allow this false notion of progress to rule their mind. With authority present at every level,  the child has got to obey, without thinking for himself. So at the end of the 15 or 16 years, after writing a great number of exams the child says I have learnt. What the child has learnt, in fact, is only to obey.

The problem here is that each child is differently wired. But there is a concerted effort to make them all alike – striving for the same  academic excellence. The uniqueness of each child – in terms of desires, abilities, way and pace of learning – is undermined, disrespected and cleanly forgotten. This does result in frustration for many and a pitiable waste of the child’s unique talents.

The abilities children possess are really undermined. It is presupposed that they are stupid and that facts and values need to be poured into them. But the fact is that each of them is blessed with curiosity and sensitivity. Once harnessed, they can do wonders. IF WE LET THEM.

The fact is that we can’t handle the genius that comes in a child. Often and openly we suppress them – when the bright kid asks a smart question that happens to be beyond the syllabus or the teacher’s knowledge, when a kid wants to give alms or questions the inequality of fortune, we just shut them up. This question or action or desire is unique. And  That is the sparkling dust of genius – so common, yet so often brushed away.
Remember the glee on his face when he discovered he could make noises – where did it go? What happened to the endless questions that tingled the child’s curious mind? During the first few years of life, rapid and essential learning takes place in children, in varied areas and paces. Yet, the child is happy and blooming because the direction comes unbounded from within. We have never felt the need to predetermine his first step – who will teach him? when will he be “thorough” with it? Assessing and grading?
because he wants to, he WILL learn it. It is as natural as life itself.

Is it possible to provide for such learning conditions for our tweens and teens? Constantly aware that I am addressing this to teachers, I know that only you can do this.
They are in your palms, waiting to be nurtured. Be the mom, the gardener, the friend, the switch button that can bring the genius out
Give them the “Yes I m interested”
“Now that’s a different thought” or you should tell me more types wala  gentle nudge that pushes them only closer to what’s waiting to be a genius.
So simple
And YOU will be the Experience(read :the best Teacher) in his life