Do You Know Your Students?

Do You Know Your Students?

Do You Know Your Students?

What would you answer if you were asked to give one reason to show that the 14th Century King, Ferozshah Tughlaq, was a good and kind ruler?

At a leading school in the capital, a grade seven child gave the following answer.

The king abolished the harsh punishment of cutting off limbs for committing crimes. But predictably, the answer fell short of expectation and the teacher had a telling remark to make. “This is not the most important point.”

Presumbaly, for the teacher, it was activities such as making buildings, digging tanks, canals and wells that the king had undertaken and the many towns, rest houses and market places he had planned for his people that were of far greater significance.

The teacher’s remark is indicative of two things. One, it typifies exactly how schools deny children an opportunity to speak from the heart and articulate what they think is right or wrong, and hence, form independent viewpoints and come to their own conclusions.

Secondly, it shows how children are expected to produce exactly the answers that satisfy the teachers and examiners. Undoubtedly, this is one of the most dangerous practices of the Indian education system as it nips in the bud young children’s initiative at saying something fresh and something that they hold as significant in their own judgement.

And why can’t they do that? The worst treatment meted out to children who want to give their own original answers rather than reproduce what they have been told, is negative marking.

This particular child who thought abolishing physical mutilation as a form of punishment was the most kind and gracious thing for a king to do was given lower marks than those who had mentioned that he built tanks and canals.

Indeed, a cult of uniformity and conformity is practiced at schools and also at home to ensure that the young follow the way of the herd. Undoubtedly, society today is producing few worthwhile leaders and original thinkers.

Another thing to note here is the popular concept of a good ruler-one who builds, constructs and does things rather than one who feels love and sympathy for the downtrodden and the unfortunate. This is exactly the rationality of our times.

Certainly, compassion and empathy with the sufferings of disadvantaged people-the very essence of humanism-has come to take a back seat today in our achievement-oriented times that are full of ferocious competitions into which children are made to enter right from the time they take kindergarten admission tests. Today’s buzzwords are ‘make’, ‘do’ and succeed’. Emotions are out and even suspected as dominant in the weak and the imbecile.

Small wonder then, education today celebrates the cerebral youth and tends to downgrade sensitivity. This devaluing of emotions is also evident from the way history (probably other subjects as well) is taught in schools and from the lessons that are selected for teaching and those set aside.

A case in point is the all-important chapter on the Bhakti Movement and Sufism that brought to the forefront the highest emotions in man. Quite frequently, this is a topic easily bypassed in class, although medieval power struggles and palace intrigues involving even minor and debased characters, Malik Kafur for instance, are given undue weightage.

Thus, for most middle school teachers and pupils alike, battles, campaigns, a horde of policies (tax, agrarian, market) and commemorative records of awesome personalities are what sums up history.

But as the Greek word ‘historia’ suggests, history is “knowledge obtained by inquiry” into the past. The inordinate emphasis on events in textbooks tends to hide from children the fact that history which is born of literature, is not just records of bloodshed and power struggles but also involves great emotions and passions that have chiefly helped to change and organize society.

It is this passion for justice, compassion, and equality that has inexorably shaped some of the most significant events in history-the abolition of slavery, the French revolution, the freedom struggles of colonised nations of Asia and Africa.

Children ought to be given the chance to understand that history is not just bloody battles but humanity’s quest for betterment and progression towards the ultimate human ideal.

Says 14-year-old Cara, “Had we not learnt that there were such cruel punishments in the past, how would we know the kind of progress we have made in the field of law? Today, we know even criminals have the right to mercy.”

Our double failure to encourage the young to think, inquire and to express their feelings and give adequate importance to emotions in education is indeed a major loss for society. The banishment of emotions has only one outcome-it makes us incapable of great art, poetry, high thoughts.

As S.T. Coleridge, the 19th Century English poet, remarkable thinker, and a savant, said, “Great thinking is possible only by a man of great feeling.”

Besides, it is only a society with a heart that can set economic justice and the progress of all people as a socio-political goal. Whereas, an emotionally atrophied society thrives on corruption, injustice and exploitation.

As Bertrand Russel would have said, it is only “knowledge wielded by love” that can alone transform the world. Hence, a good ruler foremost wields power with love. A hundred percent for the child who voted king Ferozshah Tughlaq as kind and good for abolishing the cruel punishment of mutilation.

Encourage children to think independently!

Do not talk down to children. This lowers their self-esteem and makes them diffident. Self-confidence is most important for developing courage to speak one’s mind.

In spite of the growing signs of affluence in our cities, poverty, disease, lack of basic amenities are widespread. The rights of the poor and the disadvantaged are violated everywhere. It is important that children from the very beginning be encouraged to develop love, compassion and sympathy.

Never say, ‘You are wrong, you must do/say this’. It’s better to say, ‘if I were you, I would do this’. Always rationalise, give examples and help children to make their own decisions.

Encourage children to open up, hold discussions, debates. Let a number of viewpoints emerge and discuss the pros and cons of them.

Do not impose your views on children by immediately giving the answer to a question. Encourage them to think.

If a child makes an original point and leaves out the conventional observations, don’t rebuke the child or deduct marks. Put in a word of appreciation for originality before asking the child to take note of the conventional answer as well.

Appreciate all attempts at self-impression.

Encourage children to give examples from their own lives and from what they observe around them. Encourage observation.