Friday, October 7, 2016

Classroom Stories - VII

Call Out.

I am in a meeting with a small group of 4th graders, in Mumbai, India. They are here to discuss a donation program they are working on for children who may not have access. 

We are discussing various parts of the project to iron out our concerns. I have reviewed their presentation before coming for this meeting. I had my reservations. But then they are 4th graders. Damn, the 4th graders! Those young little fellows! How do I talk about some of the issues of social justice that I think this program and the presentation have? May be I will skip it. I won't ask that question. You see elementary kids may not get it. Or will they?

As they arrive at their thank-you slide, they have a "happy black african girl". In this moment, while they are almost jubilant that mosts their presentation has been appreciated, I ask, "why this picture?"

I pause. I am nervous. May be, I should have skipped this question? You see, they were so thought about everything else. Their reason is so honest. They have tried to do this on their own before making it a school CSR project. Now, is it appropriate for their age to engage in this? Is my language too middle/high school?

And I hear the girl who made the presentation respond, "because we didn't find any other." and smiles nervously.

I enquired further,"If I say this may not be most appropriate picture for this presentation, why would I say so?"

"Because its about India?" wonders the first one. 

"Is it because its about race?" responds the second.

I further ask, "what about race? and why this may not okay?" 

He adds tentatively, "because it shows all black people are poor..." and added, "and that's a generalisation and may be true."

Yes! Kids get it. If we call them out in the right way at the right time and give them space to be able to explore these questions, they get it. And they must get it. At 4th grade. or may be even before that. Let's call out. Let's call in. With our best and honest intentions. With all the courage and love in our hearts. That's my lesson for the day.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Accept, More Than You Reject

Before you read further, I highly recommend you to go through the article: Delhi doctors use electric shock to treat homosexuality.

What do you feel as you read this? It makes my stomach churn. As I move forward with each paragraph of what these doctors do and justify their action, I wish to close the explorer. But I read on. Because, it's not just about those doctors who are making profit out of other people's ignorance. Well, many businesses are set up around other people's ignorance and fear. Take insurance industry, for example. But it's also about these 'other people' - the parents, guardians, siblings, relatives, caregivers, etc - who put their children to go through such traumatic experiences. It's also about those men, women and everyone else on the spectrum who have to go through this. And hence I plead.

To those who electrocute,

Your profession is god-like, they say. Don't mix your prejudice with profession. With Great power, comes great responsibility. Remember spiderman's uncle Ben? Read. Read some more. And more. Until your prejudices are washed off. Or at least, you learn to separate them from your work. You know, people take your words as religion. But know that your profession is not belief-based, as religions would, but science-based. So read. And learn. Don't mislead. As you believe, may be it's a disease. But may be it's not. Ask yourself, you have enough evidence to prove it to be a disease and hence you want to treat or you are filling your pocket with people's ignorance? You know the answer. Acknowledge that there's a huge space of "I don't know what I don't know". And that's okay. You are god-like, may be. But you are not god. And that's okay too. You know that it's not so much about sex. It's about love and life and such things. And even if it's only about sex, what's wrong? Don't let your homophobia run through those electric shocks. Rather, face it and learn. Learn about the homosexuals and the bisexuals and the pansexuals and the asexuals and the heterosexuals. The transgenders and transvestites and the gender-fluids. No, they are not sick of sexual disorders. But you are. Of Ignorance. Pause. Reflect. And treat the right patient.

To those who get electrocuted,

I know it's not easy. But, what has been easy, anyways? Remember that first time you learnt to ride a cycle, or for that matter anything? Was it easy to fall a hundred times and still rise up to paddle some more? This is same, you see. Rise up. Paddle some more. But don't let anyone dictate who you should be. Don't marry that girl/boy because your mom is blackmailing you with suicide. You will kill at least two lives, your own and that girl/boy's. Rise up. Hug. Smile. And let them know that you won't fake it up. Reject, more than you submit. Earn your living and move out if need be. Then go back. Hug. Smile. And let them know that you still love them. A lot. But you love yourself too. And hence you reject. Not them but the myth of heteronormativity. The electric shocks and the burden of their social status. Reject, if you must, the marriage questions. Reject to fit in. You were born to shine out. Shine out, for yourself and that niece or nephew or cousin or sibling or... let's say your father or mother, may be? Some people come out very late. And that's okay. Accept that as you want to be accepted. Hug. Smile. Reject, more than you submit.

To those who get their children electrocuted,

Don't do this. No, it's not about your children, if you do. It's about your ignorance on the subject. And no, I am not blaming you for your ignorance. May be you never had the opportunity to learn about it. Now that you are a parent (or other relative) to a person from alternate sexuality, here's one. Open up and learn. Don't burden yourself by the idea that you know it all. You don't. And it's okay. Don't try to hide your love for social prestige behind the pretext of love for your child. 'Coz you child know what the real reason is. Stand up and face the social pressure. Your child will respect you a thousand times more than what all those relatives. And let's be real; your child's love means a hell lot more than those random relatives. It's not their business to know "when will your son/daughter get married". Actually, it's not yours either. Accept, more than you reject. Hug. Smile. And accept him/her some more. Those electric shocks will not make him/her heterosexual, I bet. But it will leave your child scarred for life. And many other lives around. Remember, how you coached him to face the Math lesson when he was nervous? Now's your time. Google up and read about sexual diversity. It will do no harm. You can still reject the idea. But you don't have to reject your child, you see. Accept him/her, a little more than you can. You were his/her childhood heroine/hero; be one, now. Hug. Smile. Accept, more than you reject.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Classroom Stories VI

When Art Be The language

We were studying human settlement. He had used a certain some particular colors for jungle, villages and urban spaces. One could easily figure out which settlement he liked the most. I still asked, "which of three you like the most and why?" He said, "the village". He had spent maximum time drawing that part and had used some very vibrant colors there, while painting the urban space almost grey. We then watched a YouTube video on Human Settlements. I paused at the point where they showed a an image of rural versus urban (2:56 in the video) and asked, "observe this image and tell me, which one do you like better? Why?"

He went on to describe how the city is shown to be rich and prosperous while the village is shown with huts (that doesn’t look good). At this point, I asked him, “how is it different from your experience of the rural and urban?”

“Not all villages are like this. My village is very nice. I feel very peaceful there.”

“What did you just notice about the way we communicate what we want?”

“What do you mean?” he clarified.

“Ok. let me ask this way. When you were drawing your piece, what would an audience know about you versus what would they know about the maker of this video?”

“That this person doesn't like village much and I like?”

“How do you say that?”

“Because he has shown the village as bad. Villages are not that bad. There are poor people but then they don’t need all the money. I like to live in the village. It’s so peaceful. I like the city also. I have friends here. But I like the village more.”

We then went onto discuss how our own likes and dislikes (biases?) affect the way we communicate about certain things. It was so amazing to talk about so many diverse things - objectivity and communication, human settlements, their pros and cons and our experiences round these - through this one theme.

Thanks to art, it opened this kid up so much. Had I made him to write about it, he would have gone to sleep! He almost dislikes writing. I can understand that. Children learn language at different pace. His case is worsened by this age of manufactured aspiration to learn English (so that he can apparently live a better life) by a Fellowship-based program his school was part of (and they left the school for reasons unknown after two years of teaching him). Now he can’t speak/write in Marathi, his mother tongue, properly. Neither he is very expressive in English. Hindi, he uses only as language for peer group conversations. This kids is at loss of words. And that’s when art comes to our rescue. And videos. I think we need to break the entanglement of learning with language. While it’s important to learn language (speaking about it in academic sense), I think it’s not fair to limit a child’s chances just because his/her language competencies are developing at a pace other than the rest.

To read other Classroom Stories, visit following links:

Friday, March 18, 2016

Misplaced Priorities?

8,000 nominees. From 148 countries. Brought down to 50. Then to 10. An Indian teacher, Robin Chaurasiya, gets selected as one of the top ten finalists for Global Teacher Prize. Read, again. Global. Teacher. Prize. How many of you knew that such a prize exist? And how many of you knew that two Indians, Kiran Bir Sethi and Robin Chaurasiya, have made it to top ten in 2015 and 2016, respectively? Well, what can you do if media doesn't report, right? And why would media report if you don't care?

Care. What does this word mean? While I was watching the live telecast of the finale, I had goosebumps to see a representative from India on the dias. Not that I am super patriotic or something. When I talk about India, I don’t really mean the geographical piece of land bordered by the armed men. I mean the society which thrives on this land and challenges and opportunities that it breeds for itself. And in that regard, it was thrilling for me to see Robin Chaurasiya sitting amongst some really amazing teachers from Palestine, United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Kenya, Pakistan, Japan and Finland.

Robin didn’t win the award. And that’s okay. From what I have read, the winner, Hanan Al Hroub, from Palestine seems incredible as well. While I celebrate her victory for the work she does in the tough social, political and economic conditions of Palestine, I am also proud that Robin was in the top ten. And I wish to celebrate that too.

With all my excitement, I opened the newspapers excitedly next morning. The ceremony was mentioned nowhere. It came after one day (really? In this light-speed world of information?). A small section on Hanan in ‘world’ section with no mention of Indian representation. However, on three consecutive days, the same newspaper reported about our filmstars’ being the celebrity guests to this “teacher awards function”. The post event media reports were far and few. Those who reported talked about the trivia of Parineeti’s red carpet moment and Akshay’s selfie with Salma Hayek.

Since then the word, care, has stayed in my mind and heart. What do we care about for ourselves? And what do we care about as a society, a country?

At the award ceremony we had Indian Hindi film stars, Akshay Kumar, Abhishek Bachchan and Parineeti Chopra. While they got their share of limelight for whatever reason, they remained oblivious to the fact that there was an Indian nominee sitting on the stage. Only if they cared enough to recognise her. Later during the post ceremony event when the students of the NGO, Kranti India, approached Akshay Kumar for a selfie, I’m informed, they were almost shrugged off from being photographed. Of course, in later days his selfies appeared in the media with Hollywood stars.

Well, if you are thinking that I am sour for the girls not being able to take a selfie with one of their favorite filmstars, I am not. Because, I think the girls - knowing their stories firsthand - are far bigger stars than any film personality can ever be. Nonetheless, that’s not the point.

The point is, what do we care to celebrate? Pick up a newspaper and scan. You will find we have become (or have always been?) a society that celebrate either trivia or glamor. Please don't get me wrong. I don't have an issue with celebrating glamor if it deserves to be celebrated. Filmstars work equally hard, I hope, if not more, to entertain us and their efforts should be recognised as well - and I think they sufficiently are. My concern is about the fact that even during a teachers' ceremony, we care to celebrate a filmstar’s selfie more than Robin's work in the space of teaching-learning. How do we think we can build and raise a higher collective conscience, knowledge and wisdom if we don't celebrate the work of those who work towards it day in and day out inside and outside their classroom? After all what is celebrated is what gets worked upon. Remember how our school system has for long celebrated rote-learning and academic scores and how that has affected the way children learn in our schools? Here's one woman trying some really alternate methods to educate some of the most marginalised girls, but we are still focused at Akshay's selfie with Salma Hayek! Are we so blinded by glamour that we don't see it? Well, may be yes.

A country which spends a considerable amount of airtime deciding whether not chanting “bharat mata ki jai” is anti-national, a country which has over ten awards functions to celebrate actors but only one, far-lesser-known, national award to recognise teachers, a country where “the money allocated for key centrally sponsored social schemes—Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS),  Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA or universal education programme) and  National Health Mission—declined 10%, 7.5% and 3.6%, respectively, over two years. Over the same period, money set aside for Swachh Bharat Mission (Clean India Mission) increased almost three times where only 1% of Swachh Bharat Mission money spent on changing attitudes (source)”; it clearly is a state of misplaced priorities.

P.S. - Care to see how some countries celebrate their teachers? Check this.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The City of Hills and the Sea - IX

In his article, Sri Lanka has much to teach us about civic sense (HT, 31st Jan, 2016), Mark Tully questions, “What can you say about the civic sense of a society which tolerated the death of 3,034 commuters on Mumbai’s suburban railways last year?” Another front page report suggested how Mumbai is choking with pollution levels on rise.

While many claim that India’s intolerance has risen, look at how tolerant we have become to our blindness towards civic responsibilities and a crumbling society, is just amazing. We are more worried about what one says on social media and news channels while we let 3034 mumbaikars die in train accidents in just one city. By the way, these numbers are more than most recent terrorist attacks. In these attacks, the ‘enemy’ is out and known. Who is the enemy that we need to fight who let these train deaths happen or let the city choke with pollution?

Though, the stats almost always give us a macro understanding of things, I think, it’s about us, the individuals. The resident-but-not-resident individuals.

I have lived in this city for over ten years now. Did I intend to? Not really. I had come to this city, like many others, in search of a better education and career choices, but most importantly in search of my individuality, my freedom and my life. Does it resonate with many of you? Oh well! I am not just talking about the biharis and the UP-wallahs, the telugus and the tamils, the mallus and the govans, the sindhis and the bongs; I am even talking about the gujaratis and the maharashtrians. We all have come to this city at some of of time in our ancestral history. I still remember when Dev Tayde, one of the most amazing people I have met in my life, asked in one of his sessions, where are you from. Most people in the group said, Borivali, Chembur, Colaba and Vashi. He asked again, where are you really from. That question in that moment seemed pushy to me. I was like, what the heck, I am from where I choose to be. and I chose to be from chembur, from Mumbai. But over the years, I have found much relevance to this question. A couple of year ago, it struck me, most of us are travellers to this city. This city doesn't become home. We love it, like most travellers do, for what if offers. But our love doesn't come with much responsibility and accountability towards the city. Afterall, its the host who has to keep the house clean once the guests are gone, right? But what about guests, who come to your house forever? But don’t bring the responsibility of this foreverness? And I am talking about all classes - from doodhwala to Diamond merchants, from Bollywood-wallahs to software engineers.

It’s great that our constitution gives us the right to travel around and live anywhere we want in India. However, with this right also comes the duties to rise above personal aspirations and be responsible towards cities, towns and villages we travel to or live in through our lifetime.

These days we all have views. So many views. We all want to be heard. We all almost fight it out when not heard. And it’s important - to have a view and to want it expressed. However, unless our views translate into action, they don’t have much meaning. Sudhir Mishra, in his interview in today’s Brunch, very aptly sums up what I am thinking, “... when people state their views in conversation and not in their work. If you have a political opinion and something upsets you, it's your job to reflect it in your work because that’s where it will have the maximum impact. Tweeting doesn’t fulfill the purpose.”

So, if you are a photographer, think what you can shoot today? If you are software programmer, which code of yours can change the face of this city? If you are banker what services will make many of the social causes so relevant? If you are a policy maker, how will you create right tools for policy implementation and accountability? If you are a cleaner, how will you create sustainable system of cleanliness? If you are a salesperson, what will you sell today? Well, I am just a teacher, and I log off. To go to my sunday class. To teach my young minds with a hope that their aspirations will not only be about their achievements but our collective growth.

Have a lovely Sunday!


To read the previous posts in this series, you may visit following links: