Monthly Archives: April 2009

‘home schooling’ – some thoughts

This is part #6 of the ‘frequently avoided questions on education’ series; pointers to the previous posts are given at the bottom of this post.


… But, not all education systems are bad – it is pertinent here to note that, very many of the folks who have made a positive difference to our lives – literateurs, artists, entrepreneurs, scientists, leaders, philosophers and teachers seem to have been ‘educated’ in the factory kind of way – and they have contributed immensely for the ‘furtherence’ of our civilization.  On the contrary, there are these great many ‘illieterate’ and ‘uneducated’ farmers of the land (not to speak of the folks who ‘service’ us in various ways) are the ones to whom we owe our very existence!

We thrive in the intervening great gray area, of course!

And when I think of it, certainly ‘home schooling’ appears to be an option too.  We have been thinking about this for quite a while now – and we have resolved to continue to think about it!

Now, we personally know a few good folks who are actually (and quietly) doing this and know of some others who pretend to do this. In my opinion, for this ‘home schooling’ business to be good and useful, the following are the necessary (and mostly sufficient) conditions:

  1. Both parents have to be ‘centered’ and calm; the word imperturbablity floats up!
  2. The parents should have this attitude: Education is NOT a mere preparation for life. It is life.
  3. They should have had at least some prior experience of having dealt with children of various ages – from toddlers to adolescents – and a demonstrated capability to learn with and from them.
  4. Both parents have to stay at home and spend the time with children and doing ‘chopping wood, carrying water’ – if some ‘bread winning’ is a must, then it should be done from home.
  5. The parents should be driven by that maxim: Be the change, you wish to see. (for example, one cannot be in a high paying, highflying profession or a inveterate daytrader at the Stock Exchange, and say that it is okay if his children get home schooled and become potters. This cognitive dissonance will be eminently registered by the children – who have this innate ability to separate real men and women from phoneys – as a friend of my spouse says: children are the best bullshit meters!
  6. The parents should not merely be running away from schooling systems and if so, keeping children at home becomes a merely default option – as they are NOT running towards an objective; instead, they should have a significant number of sound & positive reasons for home schooling.
  7. The parents should be warm and affectionate folks, around whom ti should be possible for an active network of various kinds of people to operate – professing various faiths, professions and ideologies.
  8. They should have a significant library collection (or have access to) of books, music, films and people – and should be able to tap into similar resources of other like minded or kindred souls. While using any such media, they would exercise discretion and finer tastes.
  9. They should have healthy food practices, medical ideas and should be agile.
  10. They should not be mere talkers – but doers. And, most importantly, they should be very good and patient listeners. (Read at your peril: Paperback activists considered harmful)
  11. They should be DIY (do it yourself or do it myself) folks at various levels and should have curiosity and raging chutzpah.
  12. Metacognition levels need to he very high in the parents. ( I strongly recommend that all folks – whether or not they are homeschoolers or wannabe ones – read this article:  Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments – Justin Kruger and David Dunning, Department of Psychology, Cornell University – Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1999, Vol. 77, No. 6. ] 121-1134 – ; let me say that I have benefitted enormously from this study, at a personal level and as a ‘leader’ of people in my previous avatars)
  13. The Signal-to-Noise ratio has to be significantly high in their lives.
  14. They should have a fundamental respect for the child or for that matter, any child.

There could be a few more such attributes, but I think, the professional knowledge and an ability to readily solve partial differential equations and flaunt their technology provess are definitely not among them.

And, luckily for me, I am not unduly burdened with any of the above virtues and illustrious parameters (0r kalyaana gunas, if you will), and so my children can heave sighs of mighty relief that they are not going to get home schooled. I realize that ‘home schooling’ is no monkey business, it requires a lot of commitment, grit, resourcefulness and level headedness.

I increasingly believe that children are veritable sponges and soak in the environment that they grow up – whether it is a school or a home or a road – and it is up to us parents to provide them with meaningful choices that they can choose to  pursue resourcefully with their self-esteem intact.

(continued in the next installment #7)

Earlier installments:

part 1:

part 2:

part 3:

part 4: Education: A taxonomy towards understanding this beast better

part 5: Time ‘spent’ on education


time ‘spent’ on education

This is part #5 of the ‘frequently avoided questions on education’ series; pointers to the previous posts are given at the bottom of this post.

Let us do a little bit of a ‘back of the envelope’ calculation.

Let us assume that the average longevity of a human being in India is 65, which is actually a shortivity, given the unhealthy food practices of the majority of our population – what with the happy and generous rationing of ‘polished white’ rice (read: sugar problems), ‘refined’ oils (read: more cholestrol without vitamins/minerals), HighYieldVariety wheat (read: pesticides, fungicides, weedicides) and ‘white’ sugar (read: pure poison) all over India, thanks to the illustrious public distribution system, a legacy of the British rape of India. 

But, my diatribe is actually about education, so back to the topic… 

Of the 24 hours available per day, we do the following:

  • Circa 9 hours on sleep
  • Circa 3 hours on ablutions, eating, cooking-cleaning (strictly reserved for females), entertainment, sports (strictly reserved for males & exclusively spent on training our fingers on various keyboards, remote controls, steering wheels, Sony PSPs, cellphones)
  • Circa 2 hours on commute to wherever the hell, and back 

This compute leaves on an average, about 10 hours per day, to everyone of us, to lead our lives, derive some meaning etc. But we choose to spend close to 8-10 hours (in our adult lives) on the beasts called ‘work.’ – presumably to make ‘both ends meet’ or to ‘make a living’ or one of such thingies. Most of us even pretend to enjoy the ‘work’ that we would otherwise endlessly gripe about with our close friends and hapless spouses… 

So, actually most of us don’t live at all. May be, except on weekends, which if we live in Bangalore, happily spend hanging around Brigade road or on Commercial Street or in a neon lit mall or in a multiplex – if at all we call these things life.

Aha, but then, I must NOT forget the stranger who keeps tabs on & ogles at us right in our dying rooms –  TV! 

Give us our daily dread. Amen. 

If this is a typical pattern with most of us, then, I would say that, it is high time we became manure and fed the microbes.  Thankfully some of us are not ready for it, yet – but then… 

What about the children then? They don’t have these ‘work’ or ‘profession’ or whatever, at least. THEY should be enjoying THEIR lives, yeah?? 

Now comes the compute for the children who go to school:

No of days in an year:                                                     365     

Less: Saturdays/Sundays                                              104     

Less 2.5 months of various holidays

@20 days per month                                                        50       

Days in school                                                                    211 (approximate, of course) 


Age band (in years) of Children / adolescents / adults

Years spent

Hours per day spent in school

Days in school per year

No of hours ‘spent’ in school

2.5 – 5





6 to 15





16 & 17





18 – 20






 I have assumed that children begin schooling at two-and-a-half years of age and keep ‘studying till their twentieth year at least. In many cases in reality, many young adults keep ‘studying’ till they are 25 or so…

Total no of hours ‘spent’ in school


Total no of calendar years on ‘education’ in school/college – till 20 years of age, say



This 3.10 years means days & nights full of study and study… and it should not be mistaken with a normal year.


Years spent

Hours per day spent in homework / tuitions

Days in these activities per year

No of hours ‘spent’ in these ‘out of school’ activites

Now add the ‘homework’





Add: ‘tuitions’







Grand’ total hours on ‘education’ via homework/tuitions      


Grand’ total years on ‘education’ via homework/tuitions      




Great grand no of years spent, with a bunch of certificates to prove it, at the end of this ‘education’…      


This, in real terms will workout to, about…      



The children (at least, most of them) spend a significant part of their impressionable years in things that provide them with an illusion of being ‘educated.’

In the first twenty years of their lives, they spend more than 40% of their time in actitivties that are suppose to be providing them with ‘education’ and ‘life skills’…

Why do we do this? If we pause (don’t you ask for a remote ccntrol…) to think for a moment, it would be obvious that children also lead exciting lives (!) like the rest of us. They too don’t live their lives, poor things. But we should understand that we are training them for becoming like what we wanted to become in our youth, a couple of decades down their line. 

After all these years of grueling ‘education’ one would think that all these ‘products’ of the education mills would be able at least to do things like, hold your breath:

  • identify the stars/planets in the night sky or
  • locate the edible plants in their own backyards or
  • apply whatever things that they ‘learnt’ in their ‘studies’ in real life or
  • … even cook a decent meal…
  • be happy and peaceful??

No, Nyet, Nada, Ayyo, illey saar! 

And yeah! A few years back, I went to a ‘con’sultancy firm’s office in Whitefield (a suburb of Bangalore, housing gargantuan and soulless buildings and (mostly of course) IT companies) to visit an old classmate of mine – and a few of his friends; eventually, we started talking about the elite school we went to etc etc. And, one of the guys was truly a believer in the idea that the guys who went to our school were SUPREME and of course God’s own gift to mankind and all that… And the fundamentals (‘fundas’) that they have etc, and of course they are brainy. To be honest, this guy was ‘academically’ good during those wasted days of my youth, certainly better than mine – essentially an acadummy

I was endlessly peeved and I asked him Do you remember Eigen values and Eigen vectors that we studied and how useful they are to our practical  lives. He was flummoxed for a second, and said Of course, I don’t, but not all things were useful to study, I got good grades in my math courses but where do we even use Eigen vectors, huh? Again I asked him Do you ever help in the kitchen by ‘rolling’ chappathis/rotis or even pack food, harnessing the lunch_packets with elastic rubber bands. He said No and asked What the f**k is the connection? 

I didn’t say what the connection was, and controlled my temper. 

The thing is that ‘brand’ recall is a great camouflage that helps a lot in covering up; in a world that is brand/stereotype oriented, we get only cardboard cutouts. A sad state indeed. 

It is another matter that this chap is working in the ‘States’ with a 5 figure dollar salary (as per his father) and visits his Bangalore based parents 4 times an year, on office ‘account’ or ‘expense.’ 

If this is the state of education and our ‘educated’ elite, who are seen to be successful and the vanguard, then why even bother to ‘educate’ our children? 

I suspect that the reason is, actually we want our children to be like us, oh what a noble & paramount objective to shoot for, my eyes are filled with tears now… and at best we may wish for – them leading cushier lives than us, but doing as less ‘work’ as possible and doing things that we wanted to do, once upon a time. Ta da

I have a reasonable (read: ‘brand’) academic background, plodded thru some 16 bloody years of ‘education’ and sometimes I feel whatever the heaven, that I have to show for it!

But then, education systems are not all that bleak… There are ways and ways and positive things…

(continued in the next installment #6)

All parts of the series, uptil the current one are here: FAQs on ‘education’

Binayak Sen

Internet as a medium, certainly helps in information sharing, and sometimes this sharing business could be critical. I only wish this world-wide-web existed during the times and tribulations of the organizers of the likes of Shankar Guha Niyogi.  Probably this could have helped Shankar – at least to the extent that he may not have been murdered… Thinking of it, all I did after I heard of his murder (in 1991) was to write an emotionally charged and looong obituary in a ‘little’ Tamil journal.

I don’t want to be an active armed-chair member of that brigade of ‘Ratan Tata is killing turtles, send him an email and spam him continuously so that he gives up his idea’ that abounds these days. Nor do I want to be an active human rights advocate – a rant against these types (some of them are of course genuine) can be found here – foreign aid (for NGOs) considered harmful – which you read at your peril.

But, this is about Dr Binayak Sen – who happens to be one fine fellow, caught between the ruthless armed thugs, some of whom call themselves naxalites and a vengeful/unfeeling administrative mechanism. Hope he doesn’t fall by the wayside.

I have reproduced verbatim, a plea from V R Krishna Iyer, that was published by ‘The Hindu.’ The objective of this post is to make us think about the issue and not to send a mail to a Ratan Tata or to the Chattisgarh State Government.

I fervently wish Dr Sen gets back to his constructive work soon.

Krishna Iyer’s plea on behalf of Binayak Sen

The text of a letter written by Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, former Supreme Court Judge, to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, dated April 17, 2009:

 I would like to bring to your attention a case of grave injustice which is a cause of much shame to Indian democracy: that of Dr. Binayak Sen, the well known paediatrician and defender of human rights.

This good doctor has been incarcerated in a Raipur jail for nearly two years now under the Chhattisgarh State Public Security Act, 2005. Among the charges against Dr. Sen, who is renowned worldwide for his public health work among the rural poor, are “treason and waging war against the state.”

Chhattisgarh State prosecutors claim that Binayak, as part of an unproven conspiracy, passed on a set of letters from Narayan Sanyal, a senior Maoist leader who is in the Raipur jail, to Piyush Guha, a local businessman with allegedly close links to the left-wing extremists. He was supposed to have done this while visiting Sanyal in prison both in his capacity as a human rights activist and as a doctor treating him for various medical ailments.

The trial of Dr. Sen, which began in a Raipur Sessions Court late April 2008, has, however, not thrown up even a shred of evidence to justify any of these charges against him. By March 2009, of the 83 witnesses listed for deposition by the prosecution as part of the original charge-sheet, 16 were dropped by the prosecutors themselves and six declared ‘hostile’, while 61 others have deposed without corroborating any of the accusations against Dr. Sen. Irrespective of the merits of the case against Dr. Sen, there are very disturbing aspects to the way the trial process has been carried out so far.

As if all this were not enough, Dr. Sen has also been repeatedly denied bail by the Bilaspur High Court (in September 2007 and December 2008). And the Supreme Court of India rejected his special leave petition to have the bail application heard before it (in December 2007).

Given the paucity of evidence in the trial of Dr. Sen so far, in all fairness the Raipur court should have dismissed the case against him altogether by now. Certainly the weakness of the prosecution’s position should entitle him to at least grant of bail. Dr. Sen is a person of international standing and reputation, with a record of impeccable behaviour throughout his distinguished career. In May 2008, in an unprecedented move 22 Nobel Prize winners even signed a public statement calling him a ‘professional colleague’ and asking for his release.

Normally bail is refused only in cases where courts believe an accused can tamper with evidence, prejudice witnesses or run away. In Dr. Sen’s case none of these apply, as shown by the simple fact that at the time of his arrest he chose to come to the Chhattisgarh police voluntarily and made no attempt to abscond despite knowing about his possible detention.

Today Dr. Sen, a diabetic who is also hypertensive, is himself in urgent need of medical treatment for his deteriorating heart condition. In recent weeks his health has worsened and a doctor appointed by the court to examine him recommended that he be transferred to Vellore for an angiography and perhaps, if needed, an angioplasty or coronary artery bypass graft without further delay.

Instead of recognising their social contributions, the Indian state, by wrongly branding Dr. Sen and many other human rights defenders like him as ‘terrorists’, is making a complete mockery of not just democratic norms and fair governance but its entire anti-terrorist strategy and operations.

The repeated denial of bail which results in ‘punishment by trial’ constitutes an even graver threat to Indian society. The sheer injustice involved will only breed cynicism among ordinary citizens about the credibility and efficacy of Indian democracy itself.

The above article off:

October Sky & The Shawshank Redemption

Yesterday, a 10 day short break for the Erdkinder began – and we thought, may be they could see a couple of films (not high brow, not Arthouse, nor very mainstream, but reasonable flicks) that they can reflect on and get back to the school post holidays.

The first was ‘T’he Shawshank Redemption – a reasonable film (story of that pulp ‘horror’ fiction writer – Stephen King) directed by Frank Darabont. After seeing ‘The Shining‘ (story of the same King but directed by Stanley Kubrick) – sometimes I wonder how this shawshank would have turned out, if  Stanley had directed it. But then, probably Stanley would not even have touched this story as it is fairly linear, predictable and with a lot of loophomes to boot. But given the basic parameters, Shawshank is a good story of hope. Of course Morgan Freeman is there, he is good, but the best acting is by Bob Gunton – what with the image of a cynical manipulator and a system-beater, being perfectly portrayed by him.

Recommended, if one doesn’t want to exercise her brain cells and go with the ‘flow.’ Definitely reasonable entertainment and it makes one think. The children of course ‘enjoyed’ the film and latched on to the ‘hope’ and ‘persistence pays’ themes, I suppose.

The second one was ‘October Sky‘ – a ‘biopic’ kinda film – once again about exercising choices and hope. A fine film, no cinematic hijinx, no techniques, no layering of stories – nothing. It would have bordered on the melodrama, if the story were to be pure fiction – but the story is based on the struggles and DIY efforts of a NASA scientist (who persists and against odds emerges chasing and realizing his dreams) and the children liked it too…

Overall, it was good to see the children observe that there are/were coalmines and dusty environments and underprivileged children and ‘strict’ parents and ‘son taking up father’s professsion’ and ‘obeying & disciplined children’ to everything else – even in USA! Anyway, the kind of images that one develops using those infernal Archies comics and swashbuckling Schwarzneggars and trashy films to stereotype USA, had better be reconstructed, what?

May be they should see that majorly underrated film – once again based on coal mines and politics – John Sayles’ Matewan. We would sir, we would!

We wanted them to see good/reasonable films, even though they are not in the class of, say, a ‘Shichinin no Samurai’ – just to help them unwind, especially when they have promised to curtail their TV and Internet time! Oh, I should tell you this – very cheerfully (hic!), the children have volunteered to stay away from TVand Internet thingies and focus on nonTV things at home – and spend at best, 1 hour per week in front of the offending idiotbox and the computer monitor.

This is only a trial and let us see how this works.

I wish them goodluck! 🙂

education: frequently avoided questions – part 4

This should be titled:

Education: A taxonomy towards understanding this beast better.


Previous parts of this series on exploring education and its drivers (slightly sarcastically), mainly aimed at us clueless parents are here!

part 1:

part 2:

part 3: 

This is part 4 of the exciting (!) series. Seriously, now.

 So what do we mean when we say education? What are the daemons in our mind that immediately rev-up and fill our mindscape with some ideas – whenever someone says ‘education?’

Do we want ‘education’ at all? What kind of education do we want for our children? Are our ideas on education based on the kind of education that we had when we were young, and frankly would have preferred NOT to have had it at all in the first place?

Did we admire the ‘education’ that someone else received  (that we didn’t) when we were young – and consider that ‘education?’ 

Does a certificate from well known school/college/institute with a brand-recall circumscribe the context of ‘education’ for you? 

Does education mean that, it is a stepping stone that would enable one to aspire for some other goal or brand, such as the Indian Administrative Service – IAS? 

Does the ‘education’ that you are seeking for yourself or for your wards, is seen to be a silver bullet that will release you &/or your children from the detestable social &/or economic status that you find yourself or perceive yourself to be in? Or is there a difference between perception and your own cute reality? 

Or, in the happy situation, do we NOT have any ideas about education at all? Okay, I agree that we may not have had time to think about education – because we feel we have not had the luxury of reflecting on anything serious – between making a living and actually living? 

Fine. Ignorance was not built in a day, it is a hard-won attitude that one has to cultivate. I know, it took me ages to groom myself so that I could become eloquently ignorant and imperiously indifferent… Ha! 

Seriously now, in this next installment of this blasphemous series of rants, we would look at the common ways of stereotyping education in terms of what sociologists call, Ideal Types. 

An ideal type is formed from characteristics and elements of the given phenomena, but it is not meant to correspond to all of the characteristics of any one particular case. It is not meant to refer to perfect things, moral ideals nor to statistical averages but rather to stress certain elements common to most cases of the given phenomena.” (The methodology of the social sciences’ – Max Weber – a fine text

Simply put, the world of ideal types merely allows one to stereotype, simplify and attempt to slot things – such as white and black, so that we can easily pretend to understand things. But you see, the world is NEVER defined in terms of black and white. 

It has myriad hues – it is a true celebration of gray areas. 

One example of this ‘ideal type’ is the varna system in India (or ‘caste’ if you will, which is a Portuguese terminology from that culture, which does not even begin to describe our varna system or its subset, the jaati system). Varna ideal types constitute 4 main categories, all of which conform in one-way or the other to the canonical ideal type classification. 

If we just give it a little thought, we would be surprised to find that – we would hardly, if ever, find exact mappings of real individuals to the ideal types. But, we carry on with our lives as if the ideal types are all real – waging our own passionate and petty wars in support of or against one of these ideal types. 

Again, the stereotypes of the ideal types themselves are quite badly formed, with negative attributes lined up against a particular thing and positive ones against the other. So, we end up avoiding the gray areas – which represent the truth in its splendid glory, which is sad. 

In fact, we have always generally avoided ‘going to the sources,’ because of our splendidly cultivated ignorance and laziness – we always have borrowed opinions. Like Raama and Raavana in Raamayana – we make Raama a personification of virtues and Raavana, a truly veritable evil. But if one dares read Ramayana from one of the 100s of versions of it, he/she would realize that Raama and Raavana, are both characterized as normal folks – each with his sinful acts and acts of selfless braveries, large heartedness and petty mindedness and much else.  A celebration of gray, with past possibilities of learning, for us to strive to become better… 

Take that great epic – Mahaabharatha – that grand celebration of gray areas. Or take the case of the Bible – old as well as new testaments; all characters, including Sri Judas Iscariot and Sri Jesus Joseph – are portrayed as normal and therefore splendid people – what with very cute contradictions in the various versions/narratives of the apostles. All very human… 

Take the case of our good ol’ Buddha. He deserted his family to ‘seek’ – to make a fresh beginning and to deal with intense introspection. Very human, though sometimes I don’t understand him. (I like my Kabir better) 

They are NOT cardboard cut outs at all! Probably what makes them (Raavana, Raama, Judas, Jesus, Gautama et al) great is their constant striving to become better beings, in spite of all kinds of debilitating issues & contradictions they have had – both personal and environmental… 

But the hagiographies that followed and the need for some folks to establish an institution around the images of these persona, for their own benefit – have resulted in untenable and lifeless black and white images of the folks/characters involved.. How sad! We talk about Hell and Heaven! Angels and Evil spirits! As if all these are separate and mutually exclusive entities, ideal types – if you will…when we actually, if at all think of these, we would realize that we are both – sometimes simultaneously! We are both evil and good… 

In clear black and white pictures of anything, no searching for meaning or ‘seeking’ is possible. 

I like gray areas.  Of course, the fact that my hair is graying rather silently with the forehead rapidly increasing its domination over my pate, also does help. 

Even with respect to having opinions on a book or an issue or a film – we always borrow the opinions of others, never having the time or the attitude to look at the sources and form our own opinions.

At this juncture, I recollect reading that tome – ‘The Mass Psychology of Fascism by Wilhelm Reich – and feeling that, eventually we are probably headed in a direction wherein we will all settle down to a second rate life, if at all! 

Okay, just like the way we have ‘understood’ and randomly & selectively interpreted and continue to interpret a fascinating epic like Ramayana, we do this mindless act of stereotyping without any rhyme or reason and we have forgotten that, to understand something in an intended context, one has to go to the sources… But, these are the days when one prefers ‘notes’ and ‘question banks’ to the actual & canonical texts. So we find it easier NOT to think and simply mouth the opinions of others. 

What happens in this depressingly underwhelming process is invariably – as John Pilger would say – the ‘normalization of the unthinkable.’ The main casualty in the approach is non acceptance of  well considered or heretic points or even realistic / pragmatic points of view. May be heretic views are the correct ones or may be not. 

Note to myself: Should see Rashomon again. And of course, the lyrical Shichinin no Samurai – the Akira Kurosawa masterpieces; great concurrent accommodation and treatment of various points of view, with subtle nuances – seen through the prism of individual beliefs and deeply felt realities… 

Okay, all these thoughts and beliefs operate at the subconscious levels – making us perceive and make sense of the world in our own prejudiced and half-baked ways – and as I’m fond of saying, form the ‘metaphors we die by.’ I am very much not an exception, so caveat emptor! I like to wallow in reasonable ignorance. 

When I think about the applicability of the sociological category of ‘ideal types’ – a few examples float up immediately and I tell myself that we would bother only about ‘education’ here – and in terms of all of them being seen as forming dyads located on the opposite ‘extreme’ sides of a given phenomena: (they are not in any particular order, but I sincerely hope that, a reasonable taxonomy would develop eventually – based on the following axes for the understanding of education) 

Philosphical moorings 

  • Literacy Vs education
  • Theory of education Vs the Practice of it
  • Quality Vs Quantity
  • Form (‘certificate’) Vs content (‘education’)
  • Arts Vs Science (OR Creativity vs Concepts)
  • Big picture Vs details (OR Bird’s eye view vs Earthworm’s view)
  • Competition Vs Cooperation
  • ‘A picture is worth 1000 words’ Vs ‘Write an essay on the parliamentary system in 1000 words.’
  • Oriental Vs Occidental accents
  • Spiritual VsMaterialistic accents
  • Education as teaching: How to make a living Vs How to live 

Education theories 

  • Tagore? Steiner? Piaget? Gandhi? Goldman? Dewey? Montessori? Bruner? Aurobindo? Vygotsky? Or that bane of Indian education – Macaulay?
  • Connectivism? Cognitivism? Behaviorism? Constructivism? Contiguity? Gestalt? Experiential learning?
  • Learning theories? Andragogy? Symbol systems? Repair theory? 

there are as many theories about education as there are folks on earth! 

Behaviour modalities in education 

  • Punishment Vs non-punishment
  • Direction by the needs of the self Vs behaving as dictated by outside instructions
  • Development of self esteem Vs Addiction to rewards & mere tokens
  • Self validation Vs External validation
  • Blooming under privacy Vs Wilting under an atmosphere of surveillance 

Parental involvement 

  • Complete outsourcing of education to the ‘school’ Vs Symbiotic relationship with the ‘school’
  • Schooling vs Unschooling Vs Homeschooling … 

Practical pedagogy 

  • Medium of instruction: Mother tongue Vs Some other tongue (English)
  • Rote memorization Vs Learning with understanding
  • Physical Vs Mental activities
  • Left brain Vs Right brain
  • Exams Vs No-exams
  • Work Vs Play
  • State board Vs CBSE vs… (what a delightful variety)
  • Computers Vs NO-Computers (or a Sony PSP vs no gadgets)
  • Vocational training Vs NO-vocational orientation. 

Educational/Class Environment 

  • Democracy in classrooms Vs Autocracy
  • Open environment Vs closed environment
  • Textbooks Vs No-textbooks
  • Class/Period/subject switching every hour Vs child directed activities
  • Older children in the environment (‘mixed’ age group) Vs Children of the same age (‘narrow’ group) 

Schooling systems 

  • Montessori Vs non-montessori (OR Waldorf vs non-waldorf OR Nai Talim vs non-nai taleem OR <insert your favourite theory, including Piaget’s>)
  • Big school Vs Small school
  • Local schools Vs ‘International’ schools
  • Valley Schools (such as The Valley Schools) Vs Mountain Schools (such as a Montfort or a Lovedale)
  • Non-missionary schools Vs Missionary schools (mainly those gazillion factory schools that call themselves ‘Christian’ schools that are neither Christian nor Schools)
  • Professional teachers Vs consultants/experts
  • Government run ‘public’ schools Vs Private ones
  • ‘Mainstream’ schools Vs ‘Alternative’ schools (I think I dealt with this in the first installment
Economics of education 
  • Education as business Vs Education as service
  • Opportunities based on availability of funds Vs others available irrespective of funds 
  • Education as one giving respectability Vs one getting dowry
Politics of education 
  • Equality of opportunity Vs Equality of status
  • Education: Breadth first Vs Depth first
  • Education as providing: Models of excellence Vs Models
  • Schools providing skills for being: Sociable Vs Antisocial
  • Education as a force to: Transform the world Vs Transforming oneself
  • System beating/cracking Vs ‘following his own drummer’ Vs ‘also-ran’
  • Us Vs Them  

From the next installment, we will jointly try to address and understand where we stand and where we may want to go – with respect to the above and a few more. 

And, we may begin to understand that both polarities in most of the above (so perceived) dyadic relationships are important, if we are seriously talking about education. We may eventually find out that, in most of these so called dyadic cases, we are, in effect, traversing a Möbius strip – which apparently & on the face of it, has two sides, but actually has only one side. 

In some of the above dyadic ideas, we get more pointers to reach clarity about the others – they by themselves are not critical, but they help a lot towards understanding things that impact education or at least our understanding of it. 

We would also discuss the broader social context in which ‘education’ operates – coexisting and symbiotically working with other ‘systems’ in society. 

Of course, your mileage will vary, depending on where you are and where I am – and therefore where we are NOT. 

Please feel free to share your thoughts / anger / annoyance in the interim. The forum is open. If you are silent, you will be forced to listen to my untempered views! Caveat, caveat!


Part 5 will follow sometime later…

All parts of the series, uptil the current one are here: FAQs on ‘education’

home and school – a complete partnership

Many moons back, we had this meeting at NammaShaale (I recall that there were a few such angst laden aperiodical meetings) and am sure many schools have these kinds of congregations to thrash out the vexatious issues and stuff…

Anyway, I thought it would be a good idea to post the quick notes (fr0m our archives)  that we made for ourselves, when we went for this meeting/discussions.

By no means this listing claims to be complete,we would like to revisit this too  – and I recall that there were many parents who actively participated and presented their considered views.

It is reproduced here verbatim – it is kinda dated, but probably would be useful, as long as there are schools and parents…

—- begin —-

Parents meeting : The roles of home and school – a complete partnership

Namma Shaale – 20th July 2008

Goals of education 

  • Aid for life
  • Ongoing process for life
  • In childhood, it is formalized

 As adults, we need to help the child develop the following three:

  • Strong sense of self – to help the child deal with present and future challenges in life
  • Right values towards self, work, one’s life, fellow human beings, and fellow living things and the world around us – to build a sense of a loving, respectful, thinking, evolving community
  • Skills and meta skills to live one’s life fully at every stage – to find joy and meaning in work

 School’s role in education 

We think that the school should provide the following

  • Strong sense of self and the right values 
    •  Reinforce what comes from home – provide everyday examples of valued behaviour and responses to the world
  • Skills: School is the main influence in the child’s life. While meta-skills are more important than skills, we feel that meta-skills cannot be learnt in isolation – they have to be learnt only through the underlying skills.

 Some key meta-learning skills:

  • how to learn
  • how to work alone
  • how to work with others (including other adults)
  • how to set goals and outcomes
  • how to plan to get the outcomes and work for it
  • how to be flexible and roll with the punches
  • exposure to diverse occupations, terrains and folks
  • how to identify and set standards, evaluate oneself and course-correct as necessary
  • joy and wonder in learning

 Some key skills:

  • Basic language, math, science, geography, history background
  • Ability to connect and weave webs among these separate topics

Parents’ role in education 

be role models, live the values that are preached take responsibility for child’s education and not outsource it to the school
respect and love,  the child keep channels of communication open with child
provide richness of environment constant dialogue with school
provide choices and respect child’s choice pitch in – aid and help the school as necessary and appropriate

Sowmya Arunajatesan & Ramjee Swaminathan

—- end —-

Please feel free to comment.

fascinating experiment/demo on packing factor…

… or density or Life, if you will.

— begin —

A lecturer once reached behind the podium and produced a jar. He then filled the jar with big rocks and asked the class. “Is it full?” Unanimously, the class replied, “Yes!”

The lecturer then took a bucket of gravel and poured it into the jar. The small rocks settled into the spaces between the big rocks.

He asked the class, “Is it full?” This time there were a few in the audience holding back, but most answered, “Yes!”

The lecturer next produced a can of sand and preceded to pour it into the jar. The sand filled up the spaces between the gravel. For the third time, he asked. “Is it full?” Now most of the audience were wary of answering, but again, many said, “Yes!”

Then he brought out a pitcher of water and poured it into the jar. The water saturated the sand.

At this point he asked his audience, “What is the point of this demonstration?” One bright person raised their hand and responded, “No matter how full one’s schedule is in life, he can always squeeze in more things!”

“No,” replied the teacher, “The point is that unless you first place the big rocks into the jar, you are never going to get them in. The big rocks are the important things in your life—your family, your friends, and your personal growth.

If you fill your life with small things, as demonstrated by the gravel, the sand, and the water; you will never have time for the important things.

— end —

Off that fascinating website:  Crossroads of that lovable and wisdomful heretic ‘Brixman.’

article: commodifying kids

Jayashree Janardhan Ashok has forwarded the article – an interesting polemic. Finally managed to read it, in spite of it being slightly turgid.

Commodifying Kids: The Forgotten Crisis
by: Henry A. Giroux

One interesting point about this article is that, at least one particular point of view has been completely avoided (find out!) – so there is no complete or a fullly formed picture. But that does not make the article any less valid,  because I love polemics.

Enjoy and reflect…

education: frequently avoided questions – part 3

The serious series ‘education: some questions and answers’ continues.

You can read the previous versions here, if you want to:

part 1:

part 2:

 —– begin, again —-

This Raju and his wife Ritu used to work for the same firm, more than a decade back; she was in my team, and then they got married, migrated to USA – then, remigrated (the chap got bumped?) back to India an year back or so; so Raju is forced to ‘search’ for his roots, ‘give back’ to India AND ‘contribute’ towards nation building… And I thought this young Ritu was a smart & vivacious girl, but the downhill movement must have started when she ‘fell’ headlong in love with this chap… Sometimes I feel, the hormones are really merciless, if not malicious –  what did the brain chemicals of Ritu see in this fat slob of a paunchyderm,. I used to wonder… But then, strange are the ways of love.


Once again it was business as usual with this Raju studbull – Indians don’t value time, roads are dirty, in ‘States’ there is no corruption, the new International Airport is so faaaaar away, Bangalore has become hotter, Real estate guys are cheats – etc etc…


He: <continuing his drivel> See, I followed American elections closely – I knew Obama would win, things are more open there you know – and look here, I don’t even know who the president of India is… <chuckles>


She: Ramjee, listen, we are looking for a good school in South Bangalore for our children and you know we stay in Jayanagar. Raju works on Bannerghatta Road, you see… We are not very happy with the school situation there, in that area…


Me: I understand your plight. The Inn is not free is it? Must have got booked well in advance. By the way, how old are your children? And, what exactly are you looking for?


She: 3 and 3, they are twins. I want to have a good education & solid basics for the children, I want them to be happy.


Me: It is slightly late for this school – but may be you can try Arunodoya – a good Montessori school in Koramangala – but I don’t think it had elementary environment then, a few years back – may be, you can check it out seriously? I have heard very good reports from knowledgeable people about the phenomenal lady and this school she runs…


She: No, we just want to put our children in some decent school once for all and forget about admissions etc till they reach their 10th std…


He: <removing his iPod headphones, momentarily> I want my home to be near my office.


Me: Um, oh… Ritu, may be you can try Prakriya GreenWisdom School on Sarjapura Road? But I don’t really know whether they take in kids this early. But you can always check it out… And then there is this GEAR school, you can find out more…


She: We checked Prakriya out, it is too far from here and our children are too small and I am not sure I can send them even by their school bus. And we don’t have a third vehicle for dropping and picking up children – because getting drivers for the cars is very difficult these days! They ask for raises all the time, you see – you can’t depend on them.


Me: But you can shift your home to somewhere on Sarjapura Road? May be even HSR layout or may be Kasavanahalli? You like the school, yeah?


He: But then, I would have to drive for a longer time to my office, that would be difficult, you know about Bangalore traffic.


Me: So Raju, what you are saying is, you like the school but you like your office more. And, you don’t want to disturb your dumb routine just for the sake of your children. Why then did you even go in for your children? Do you do some great and original work at the office? After all, you are a dumb seat warming manager straight from the Dilbert Cartoons, who happens to work for a dumber MNC, yeah? …


She: Ramjee, he is not like that, don’t get angry. He helps around in the kitchen. I mean, he reads his newspapers, does his emails, follows baseball and soccer matches, participates in conference-calls – in the morning, so that I am free to do the housework, cooking and attending to the twins; our family believes in sharing the responsibilities, you know. In the evening also he shares in the responsibilities of the household – he has his ‘drinks,’ watches TV, listens to Iron Maiden, checks his emails while having dinner, and I am completely free to take care of our lovely children and cook the dinner and to plan the next day. We are one happy family. Every week we go for shopping, multiplexes and visit commercial street and eat out. Raju even takes us out once an year to some exotic place! We love it. Last year we went to Pattaaya… He is soooo nice to us!


And, and… Raju does not beat me up even when he is totally drunk, unlike my father.


Me: Ritu, just a second please – I just want to verify whether you have a navel, can I?


She: <Horrified> Why? What Ramjee, I think I have one… <deer in the headlight, the works>


Me: I just was wondering whether you were from some other planet. May be you aliens do things differently there??


She: You are always joking Ramjee, we never know whether you are serious or being funny…


Me: You see Ritu, I feel you like the school and love the children. I suggest that you move to some place near that school on Sarjapura road or any other school anywhere else… See, you are an educated and a resourceful girl and can face life head on and be happy.


She: Ayyo Ramjee, but what will poor Raju do?


Me: Considering the way things are and you and your children are – I suggest that you look for a new husband. Life is full of choices, Ritu, for Godssake WAKE UP! I think Raju has already contributed what he could, to the family – I mean sperms.


He: <busy sending an SMS message on his cellphone and listening to his iPod music> I love my family. We are one great family, aren’t we, Ritu?


She: I never thought of it. What a new way of looking at life, you may not realize it Ramjee, I am constantly tired and frustrated… May be my expectation levels have been SO low! So darn low that, I can’t even recognize a normal person, even when I see one.


Me: Good that you are able to actually see things, Ritu, good luck! It is a magical world!


She: Okay Ramjee, how about you?


Me: ME? uh oh, NO dear, am already hubbily married, have kids and in any case I am only as young as your grandfather’s granduncle…Sorry. Besides, running a harem is not in my future plans. But I can introduce you to really nice guys, I promise…


He: <busy on cellphone> Chodo yaar, ab bolo – what is new on Forum mall multiplex this evening? Online booking kar sakthe?


She: Okay then, let me take leave of you – may be I should go to that Shubha Mudgal recital that I have been planning to go for more than a decade – but didn’t because of this guy. Bye…


Me: Bye, you don’t anymore want the second or the Nth car or what?


She: Yeah. I trust BMTC more – let me take a bus.


He: <checking his SMS message> Yippee! Newyork Yankees won the league – here come the Yankees! <Whistles the tune>


<She and I exchange dirty glances even as I bring a garrot…>  

—– x —–

So much for poking fun at this abominable category of  ‘you have marvelous children, but how on earth did YOU folks manage THAT?’ kind of parents.

It is amazing that, there are so many nice children, in spite of the best efforts of us parents.


This gives me hope. I would hate to admit it, but, I now think (after years of being a raving and ranting Atheist) that there is a possibility of the existence of God, after all. Or as Scott Peck would say, there could be no other explanation for this nice phenomenon but ‘divine grace.’


 From the next part, we will be serious

Next part: education a personal (and opinionated) taxonomy.


All parts of the series, uptil the current one are here: FAQs on ‘education’

navadarshanam: art retreat

The following is the text of an announcement from Navadarshanam; the folks are good, the trainer is good (yeah, the same person who brought the pattachitra artists to various schools in Bangalore, including NammaShaale).
Please feel free to signup and/or contact nd / Nalini for more details.
— begin —


Is happy to announce an


Dialogue with nature

Venue: Navadarshanam campus, Ganganahally hamlet, Gumalapuram village, Thally block, Krishnagiri dist, TN 635118.

Start of retreat: 6 pm on Monday, May 4th, 2009

End of retreat: 4 pm on Thursday, May 7th, 2009

Purpose of retreat: to see and feel the visual poetry of earth- in solitude, in silence and then to find your own expressions with lines, colours, textures, forms and designs. This will be the nature of the three day retreat. It is a process to sensitize and become aware  of various forms and their character.

The process of Art enhances the sense of observation and ‘ways of seeing’, apart from making oneself aware of one’s relationship to the world at large. It nurtures   one to become sensitive to their  own relationship and responses to the environment. The programme is set upon a self exploratory journey of aesthetics and beauty and ways of expression.

Program facilitator: Ms. Nalini Jayaram. Nalini is a freelance artist who is exploring Art’s relation to life and nature .She is also interested in traditional and rural crafts and works with artisans.Periodically she travels to the villages in Kanyakumari and helps an NGO which promotes revival of  Palmyra Craft. She is deeply interested in music, poetry,photography and an ardent nature lover! As an art educator ,she has been holding credit course in  Art appreciation for college student for students and art classes for students with learning disabilities.
She can be contacted at this number: 9448375405

Daily Schedule:

9.30 am to noon —– sketching,  Painting/ listening to music

Noon to 2:30 pm—– Lunch and rest

2.30 pm- 4.30 pm—— Pottery

4:30 pm -5 pm ——-Tea Break

5 pm to 6:30 pm——Walk, communion with nature                  

7 pm to 7:30 pm ——-Dinner

7:30 to 8:30pm ——-Community music and interaction

Course fee: Rs.2,000 per head. Relaxable in the case of those who come from economically weak backgrounds.

 Program materials: All materials will be provided, cost has been included in fees.

 Eligibility: Anyone above 15 years, with deep interest in art for art’s sake.

 Queries: For any questions concerning the program content, please feel free to phone the program facilitator Nalini. For any questions relating to stay and food arrangements, please phone Shobha on ph 92436-15470.

 How to enroll: Those wishing to enroll for this Retreat should send an application along with a cheque for Rs.2,000 payable to ‘Navadarshanam Trust’ at the following address:

 Navadarshanam Trust, A4-Whitefield Ville, 53, ECC Road, Whitefield, Bangalore 560066.

 Alternatively, the remittance may be made electronically to:

 Navadarshanam Trust, Savings A/c No 30523191101, State Bank of India, Jayanagar II Block Branch, Bangalore, IFSC Code: SBIN0003286

Please do send us an intimation at once you have sent the remittance.

— end —