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02: A village school

Group 02 Readings

Background

This Ashram school was started by a few Gandhians of Nellore district. Situated at Pallipadu on the banks of river Pennar, new life was instilled by Sri Sivaram and Sri Devkumar, who were inspired by J. Krishnamurti. Renamed as Srujana School, and helped by Mrs. Eleanor Watts, an educationist from England, the school developed its own curriculum. Later Raghu Babu and Rama gave shape to “Agriculture based Education”

Note: While the previous extracts, from Aurobindo, Gandhi and Gijubhai represent well thought out, erudite and clear critiques of educational thought and practice, the present extract, and indeed the entire book is a ‘straight from the heart’ account of the happenings in a school. What strikes us most is the passion and convictions which drive this teacher. Unhindered by the lack of command over English, Raghu Babu opens his heart out, leading us through his exploration of the joys and tribulations of children’s experience and learning. Note also his clarity of thought as far as teaching and children are concerned. In a way, it is a proof of Gandhi’s philosophy. Do take some time out to read the entire book.

Extract 08
From A School Under Trees by Raghu Babu

Telugu class started in the shades of the tamarind tree! Mastan lay down on the small writing table, but listening to the story. Mallikarjuna, Jungly and Nagaraju sat on the writing tables. Jaya had put her chin on my legs and looking into the book which was in my hands. Other children sat in front of the tables on the ground and listening to the story.

Since three days I was narrating the story “Mother Earth”, a novel written by a soviet writer Mr. Chingeez Itmatov.

Mastan, with a stick in his hand was ‘pricking the children in front of him with it. Mallikarjuna was also pricking the girls with a ball pen tip. The sufferers who were suffering by Mastan & Mallikarjuna complained me. And sometimes they shout at Mastan as “Mastan O! Short calf”.

Though those quarrels are going on one side, I was trying myself to tell the story interestingly, watching Mastan’s and Mallikarjuna’s mischievous nature on the other. Quarrelling is children’s nature! One way it is their right! If they don’t quarrel, who will do it? How can we stop them on the name of “discipline” or another? In my class children may lie down or sit on the writing tables, or do some thing mischievous, but, all the way they listen to the story very attentively.

The common definition to the word “attention” is -- children who tie their hands, will not speak or question the teacher, gauge the teacher without moving the eyes and sit quietly in the classroom. They are also considered as “attentive”. But, in fact they watch the lip movements of the teacher, but their mind may be away!

I suddenly stopped the story and questioned Mallikarjuna “with whom Tolganoi is speaking? And why is she speaking?”

Mallikarjuna not being confused, or delayed and correctly answered very, quickly! On one side he is pricking the girls, laughing at them and disturbing the class, but when did he “listen?” And how he answered well?

Children can not sit quietly! Some thing or other they do -- whether it is meaningful or not, whether it is painful to others or not, but, their senses work fantastically....

I never warned them on the name of discipline, but, smoothly suggested them; tried to make them understand the pain if they do mischievous things.

For about half an hour I told the story, and suddenly, I kneeled on the earth, took a handful of soil, shown it to all children, and asked them, “if you all are loving this mother earth, write some poems ....”

Mallikarjuna walked away with his notebook and sat on the top of the pump shed. Two more children followed him. Jaya and Sudhir ran, sat on the school veranda. A few lie down on the grass. Ravi and Vijaya sat under the tamarind tree, in front of the tables and started writing.

After 20 minutes all children ran to me with loud and pleasurable shouts! All gathered under the tree. Everybody sat in front of their tables and made themselves to read their poetries....

Anuradha read her piece at first with ‘glittering eyes’:

“ Mother Earth!
You promoted the civilization!
At first men didn’t know building houses
You found the innocents who know nothing
You nurtured their civilization....
In our childhood we played on you....
We played with clay by building house models
We put the clay on our heads and teased each other....
O! Mother Earth! Really you are like our mother .....”
— ANURADHA

Ravi was a deaf boy. He wanted to read at first. But, everybody competed to read first. So, strong children like Mastan, Jaya got the opportunity at the first, and Ravi in the last. Mastan started his poem:

“ Mother!
I crawled in the dust and played
And bathed in your hands
Again I ran into the dust as nude
— MASTAN

Then Vijaya read her poem:

“ Mother Earth!
This farm
Hide the seeds in your lap
After sprouting it will be
Green and beautiful...
We feel like a festival....”
— VIJAYA

Mal1ikarjuna thought to complete his poem as early as possible, so that he can go outside and play! So he started reading with full speed and loud voice.

“ I born in you
I grew in you
I merge in you
How grateful you are!
You give your essence to us Mother!
Take all of us with you
We can not bear all these turmoil....”
— MALLIKARJUNA

We really do not know. From which source the children respond? Every one has their own experiences! Mallikarjuna who teases the girls in the classroom, does he wrote a poem like this? He does not want to enjoy the turmoil’s....

How many turmoil’s, pains and tears are hidden in the innocent minds of these children! They are fearful to their parents! How much their parents are troubling them? How much is the effect of the surroundings on the children? What are the real life conditions of the children? To whom these children can speak their difficulties? ....

At last, Ravi got his opportunity. No child was in the class i.e. under the tree! Everybody left out and was playing. But, I was there, to listen to Ravi’s poem....

“We build the houses on your head
We travel on you
Trees, dogs, and all other animals born
In your lap
The burdens are falling on you!
Mother, on you
The towns, countries are developing...”
— RAVI

How we can teach “patriotism” to our children? Every day we ask children to sing national anthem, and take the pledge, but, do they become “patriots?” They stand in attention and do salute to the national flag, but do they become “patriots?” If they join in scouts or in NCC or in NSS teams do they become “patriots?” Do they learn social responsibility? Children do not know about “love” “dedication” “patriotism”. Children do sing, play, quarrel, mischief, fight, tease....

Teacher has to understand this natural characteristic of the children and start their teaching journey - accordingly!
Above poems reflect that child can take anything onto their intense feeling and express through it. Children may quarrel, misbehave, but if there is right education, they never forget their duties.... This is the task before the parents and the teachers....

How can we let our children feel to recognise their duties and responsibilities?

***
If you turn the pages of Language (Telugu) text book you can find that:
“ ...During the Shankranthi day the Sun will enter into the Zodiac sign of crocodile ....”
If you turn the pages of social text book of the same class you can find:
“ .... The Sun and stars do not move. The Earth and other planets rotate around the Sun

Don’t you find the confusion between language, social and science text books? Don’t you find how our text books are unscientific and unrealistic? And more over there is no co-ordination in writing language and science text books and between teachers while they teach! They teach according to their text books to complete syllabus! Don’t you feel how our children are growing with the most unscientific, unrealistic and confusing thoughts!

***
We normally think, that, if we direct children with specific instructions, like -- “don’t do like that, do like this, this is right, that is not right.” then only children do well, but, we do not understand that we are spoiling the natural, imaginative and creative talents of the children....

Naturally, children are creative! Education means to draw out their inner most talents and make them artists and scientists - is it not!

Pablo Picasso said, “It had taken me a life time to learn to draw like a child”

Children’s drawings are base for modern art! The two British artists worked with children for a week, to get “creative” paintings from them! They were tired after working three hours with them every day! Louis burst out without hesitation...

We are getting tired working three hours with the children only. You and your staff spend morning 9 to evening 5 with children and you tolerate their mischief’s and quarrels — don’t you feel tired??”

Teaching is not an occupation!
It is too a creative job!
How many of us get the opportunity to spend time with the children?
How many of us get the opportunity to make the children to be creative??

***
I sat on the school steps, observing the children.

Boys were playing a game called “billam-godu”, got a dispute and started quarrelling with each other. Mastan was abusing young Prabhakar by naming Prabhakar’s caste ... “You! Washer man....” Prabhakar too was not a mild boy; he too abused Mastan by calling his caste “You! Cotton cleaner....”, Pedda Nagaraju wanted to interfere into their quarrel, but other children did not listen to his words and abused Nagaraju by calling his caste “You! Weaver... Why you interfere” Nagaraju came out of the scene.

Just then, Saila’s father came to me. He over-heard those obscenities, and abused the children, “Are you studying in the school? Don’t you get obscenities other than caste and religion....?”

He came to me, sat beside me on the steps and made a complaint, “See, we send children to school, to learn good, civilized language and good behaviour! At our residences we use slang language. Frankly speaking, it is not good. Children should get afraid of you! If there is no fear of the teacher, children will not learn anything and they will be spoiled!” He complained from his own traditional background of education.

I smiled and said, “Yes it is true! Still I could not come to a conclusion, whether obscenities can be used or not! Any one can express their anger by way of using slang language! If there are no obscenities, how one can express one’s anger! I am sorry! At present I can not teach any moral to my children. They have to analyse the nature of anger, the situation, the psychology behind anger and correct themselves. It should be understood through freedom only! If you guide them, start to correct them, not to use slang language, like this, they can not express their anger freely and understand the nature of emotions ....”

I do not know how far Saila’s father understood my words! But he stood on his argument very strongly!

***
There were six “SELF-LEARNING CORNERS” in the school. In every corner we kept a work-card, according to the instructions of the work-card, children have to work at their own interest, own risk, and own intellect, without the help of the teacher! Children have been divided into pairs, and each pair got a chance to work in each corner once in a week. Each pair spent one period a day in those self-learning corners.

At first, children could not understand this concept of “Self-learning”, because all the time they were dependents on the instructions of the teacher. Now, in these self-learning corners, no teacher was with them, no supervision by the teachers, no consultation with the teachers -- every thing will be in work-cards, they have to read and learn silently.

Now, every pair has to work alone! No interference with others; no classroom noises, quarrels and teasing. Now they got an opportunity to work by themselves with freedom and learning by doing!

***
You may get a question that, can the primary children understand the problems like women issues etc? And you may say that, these issues are not reasonable for their age? So, those should not be included as lessons in the syllabus! But, I question, how many text book writers today can know children’s psychology and their mental abilities? How many text book writers have a touch with children’s imaginative world and with their dreams?

If you open the text books, they will produce bad smell of useless morals! But, they will not allow children to observe the life, to do research, investigation, to analyse, to reflect their experiences...! They will not provide an opportunity to take care about women, about the Nature, about the community, about the Nation, about the Universe and at last about themselves! — They will teach useless morals to by-heart and pass the examinations, but not teach practical attitudes; responsibilities and they will not teach to love the life, but to escape from life!!

***
Parents demand teachers to teach discipline to their children... May be, in their context discipline means: not to speak against the elders, respect elders, not to speak obscenities, lies etc. But, if we see the reality, the parents themselves drink, abuse with obscenities, beat their wives, never care about neatness at their homes and around their homes. I know many parents who send their children to bring cigarettes, liquor bottles ....I know many fathers who tell lies on various occasions, when the children are observing.... But, these parents expect the school to teach discipline to their children -- like not to tell lies, not to smoke, to have good conduct etc., etc. And moreover they demand to teach discipline through punishments and keeping them in fear! Really -- I don’t know! Unless, parents don’t change their behaviour towards the children, how can they expect their children to have good conduct ... and maintain discipline?

I know only freedom!
Freedom can teach discipline!

 

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