Wednesday, March 14, 2012
What Do We Actually 'Celebrate' In Our Schools?
'So, you're 'celebrating' again.'
'Yes, it's Independence Day tomorrow.'
'Oh, so another round of ritualistic speeches?'
'What do you mean, ritualistic speeches?'
'You know what I mean. The same old 'important' people will be called. They will be welcomed, garlanded and they will walk around, feeling even more self-important.'
'You're being very unkind, you know.'
'But close to the truth, isn't it?'
'I'm not sure if this is really ritualistic…'
'No, it is what follows afterwards…. The same formal atmosphere will be created. Children will sit in neat rows and told not to talk too much. The LIP (or your Local Important Person) will be praised, invited to give us the benefit of his wisdom, children will be asked to shush, and then the LIP will give the same speech as every year – you are the future of the country… freedom is very important.. our great leaders were so very great… you must work hard… you must try to like the great people of the past… And all this while instead of experiencing freedom on Independence Day of India, children will be sitting bored, stiff, not allowed tomove around or talk or express themselves….'
'You're being really harsh!''
'OK, tell me, didn't you hear the same speeches when you were a child?'
'Did you really enjoy those celebrations? Were they a celebration for you?'
'Actually, to be honest, no, not really.'
'Aren't you surprised that the same speeches are being made even now?'
'Yeah, now that you mention it…'
'And shouldn't children be more like the leaders of tomorrow rather than the leaders of long past. After all, every kid is not going to experience walking 17 kilometres to school!'
'Hmm… something to think about, there. And come to think of it, why was every great man's school 17 kilometres away?'
'See, it's getting you too! And when it comes to – no, no, better not to say that.'
'Well you can tell me... I'm not going to shout at you!'
'I know you won't. But I don't want you to feel depressed either.'
'Come on, I can handle it. Tell me what you were going to say.'
'Well, if you insist. The thing is, children attend all these functions year after year, experience the same thing over and over again. And what do they learn? They learn that they don't matter. Their job is to listen. Their role is to be passive, not think for themselves. And look at you – you were a child who once found these functions boring but you are organizing exactly the same kind of function again! Independence Day isn't quite an experience in Independence, isn't it? My thesis is that these National Day type of 'celebrations' only teach us to be slaves, to accept that we have no freedom to be different or better, to allow ourselves to be defined by the limited vision of those limited adults who were similarly made limited by the experience they went through as children themselves…. Hey, you're suddenly very silent now. This is not look good… come on, say something.'
'What do I say? I'm feeling so…'
What do you think about the other 'celebrations' we have in our schools? Is the birthday of a child celebrated 'more' or differently or better than that of other children whose families are considered to be less important or not influential?
What are the festivals celebrated in schools? Whose festivals are left out? Many communities / religious groups never see their festivals even discussed in school? What do they feel about it? And what do they 'learn' from this?
On Sports Day, do most children have the scope to participate and gain something? Or is only the 'victory' of a few celebrated again and again? And what do the rest learn from this?
And on Results Day, whose achievements stand out? And what does everyone learn from this? (Maybe CCE will make a difference here?)
Perhaps all these celebrations, in the end, make us realise that their isn't much about us that is worth celebrating. When I was younger I would have said that this happens even though the intention is quite different. But now, a little more battered and older, I think the intention was always this – to make you realise that only a few can be 'important' persons worth celebrating, not you.
So what should we celebrate in our schools?
For starters, children and learning. Simply the presence of every child is worth celebrating (rather than 'Oh God, another one!'). And how to celebrate? By smiling, by welcoming, by genuinely talking with the child, giving space to her questions, by looking for ways to ensure she is comfortable, involved and engaged in an actual learning.
Children will ask unexpected questions, offer different points of view, find innovative ways of doing things, or help each other… celebrate this. Point out what they have done which is so good, and why it is so.
There will be times when those who usually 'fall behind' will make an effort, come up with something of their own (of course, only if you ensure they have the opportunity to do so). Celebrate their efforts, point out their good parts, and indicate what else they can do that will earn them similar 'celebration'.
If you find a fellow teacher, a staff member, a parent, an SMC member who is doing something successfully and contributing to children and the school, that's worth celebrating.
And on Independence Day? Start a few days before. Discuss with children what Independence Day means to us. Ask them how they think it should be celebrated. Come up with ideas that puts the children in the front, not adults or LIPs. Maybe they make drawings and posters related to freedom. Maybe they hold a debate on what freedom means and whether we really are a free people. Maybe they decide not to do a 'function' in the school at all and instead spend time with children who are unable to be in school because they are not really free…And maybe they will learn something very different from such 'celebrations' than we did.