Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Chalk Talk

Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth.' Thus (and much more) Bitzer.
'Now girl number twenty,' said Mr. Gradgrind. 'You know what a horse is.'
Hard Times, Charles Dickens
There it is! A right tick to my lengthy list of things to do. Met the principal of the school just opposite my office this morning.
It was different from all my earlier visits to schools because this visit was to a “real” school, where a principal with a long string of colorful bangles on both arms, a big round maroon bindi on her forehead and a broad smile stuck to her face was seated on the principal’s chair as Bear and I stepped in.
Principals are used to getting respect from people, and therefore I made sure I was at my politest best. A pleasant lady she was; answered all our queries with no controversial remarks. Plain, simple, politically correct answers. There was one, however, that provided us some insight into the functioning of that school, and of schools in general.
When I asked if the students were exposed to any audio-visuals aids as a supplement to the daily teaching, she answered “Yes, we let them watch educational movies and documentaries. However, we restrict them from watching too many of these, because we fear that they might lose interest in the classroom teaching and end up not listening to the teacher”.
I nodded in agreement politely. But I was reminded of our little girl no. twenty of Charles dickens’ Hard Times, who had to fearfully recite what a horse is to her class and to Mr Gradgrind, her teacher. Our students must surely be starved for innovation and imagination. Lacking the freedom to learn from what they see and not just what they are "taught", the freedom to experiment. Because we know what we provide in our schools is boring, we make sure students do not get used to entertaining learning, and to sources of learning other than the regular teachers.
As we walked out, I saw my friend giving me that knowing smile. I told him, “What a perfect answer” and with that I started my day.

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