Monthly Archives: February 2010

star (& navel) gazing

Friday, the 19th of February, 2010 saw the elementary children in, well, their Ag, Au and Pt.

The school closed slightly early on friday – so that the upper elementary children could get back to the school later in the evening, eagerly looking forward to a night of star watching.

Now, many of these upper elementary children have been working on the ideas of the universe for quite a while. Also, the school seems to have acquired a brand new and a very fine (high resolution) astronomical telescope recently – the details of which I would find out later.

Oh well. The school had arranged for a sumptuous dinner of assorted thingies and also some fizzy beverages (or so a little bird told me, oh the horror) to help the children stay awake (I suppose) and contented. It was the first night of all these children staying in the school premises overnight and they seem to have had loads of fun – waking up and watching the skies and getting fascinated and falling asleep and pulling each other’s legs and playing, periodically and practically  the whole night.

There was a Stellarium based presentation of the skies and the constellations / stars / planets that  the children were suppose to see; the children marched up and down the new ErdKinder building drawing in the whole experience, the whole night, taking turns at the Telescope.

Of course, I had a blow by blow account lasting for an hour, about the events and things that happened that night, from my sleepy child. In my opinion, this indeed is the right time to instill that sense of awe, humility and possibilities of contemplation in the elementary children. I am glad and pleased that it happened. Thanks, nammashaale.

I could still recollect with intense pleasure, the night, when I got a chance to look at the Crab Nebula. This was more than 2 decades back, when the cities (at least, Chennai) did not  have a huge number of weepy Na vapour lamps and assorted (and assaulting) light pollutants – there was practically no Internet too, then.

One January night, a pal of mine and I, had taken my good ol’ Rajdoot motorcycle  (‘Jagaddal’ it was affectionately called then by me, in an obvious reference to the nice Ritwik Ghatak film – Ajantrik – ‘non-mechanical’) went well beyond the city of Madras – spread a mat by the side of a hillock and spent the rest of the night, nebula gazing.

It was an intensely silent sight and that whole night we were contiunally gazing at the distant pasts, across millions of light years, may be at the times when on our earth Dinosaurs were happily roaming around… Even now I get ganderbumps, when I think of that night of Naasadiya Sukta dancing in my head…

That night, we did trip the light fantastic! And oh boy, how great that experience was…


Omphaloskepticism doesnt’ even begin to describe this post, of course!


our daily bread (2005) – some reflections

We (at the ErdKinder environment, I mean) get (also) to ‘see’ a lot of  films and this ‘Our Daily Bread’ happened to be one of those. And,  we had some discussions centred around the film – and, had a written ‘test’ to boot, to collect the thoughts and reflections of our children. More on this, and the content of the ‘question paper’ further down this post…

For anyone who is even remotely concerned with the  food (and by extension, our dear life)  related issues that our world is facing and especially the mass production and consumption angles – this film is a heart wrenching reminder of the grim situation. The film has little commentary, anyway the moving images speak volumes and volumes – technically also, it is one of the most canonically produced pieces of cinema verite.

dvd cover / wrapper image

Now, the text of the questions that were given to our ErdKinder is given below; of course, I must also add that the children did a fabulous job of sharing their reflections, I have just finished reading them – and this good stuff can only be blamed on a good montessori environment at the school and of course the parentage of these children.  May the blames continue!


Our Daily Bread – Unser täglich Brot (2005)
Director: Nikolaus Geyrhalter
Questions for reflection

Hope you have thought about the film, its content, and its context. You may recollect the discussions we have had, after viewing the film. May be you even discussed with some other adults about the film; in which case, it would be even easier to collect your thoughts.

Now, read the whole set of questions below, think and write your views / answers clearly and legibly. Please note that there are NO correct, black & white answers – save a few ‘factual’ questions.

You can take up to 2 hours. Blank answers will invite my wrath – you know how it is, yeah? Answers ‘for the sake of answers’ will result in a ban for three subsequent films that have been planned.

Think and then, write!

1. Name and explain the two phrases that we used in the post-film discussion – one to describe our attitudes about non-human things and the other about this type of documentary. ( 2 sentences)
2. What is the name of the India’s biggest abattoir and where is it located? (2 sentences)
3. Would you consider the following quote from Wendell Berry (from the book ‘What Are People For?’) – a part summary of the film? Why? Why not?  “I dislike the thought that some animal has been made miserable to feed me. If I am going to eat meat, I want it to be from an animal that has lived a pleasant, uncrowded life outdoors, on bountiful pasture, with good water nearby and trees for shade.” (5 sentences)
4. In what ways a factory production mechanism makes it easy for consumers to consume food – examples of food: veggies, fruits, meat etc. (10 sentences)
5. What do you understand by the term ‘Economies of scale?’ (5 sentences)
6. You have seen quite a few documentaries. This documentary had no voice-over. Why? If some commentary were there, would it have improved our understanding? What is the point? (5 sentences)
7. How many different types of harvesters did we see in the movie? Name the contexts. Why can’t we have only one kind of harvester to do all kinds of harvesting? (5 sentences)
8. In many of the harvesting farms, we saw various kinds of labourers. What was the single most striking feature of them? Why? (4 sentences)
9. There were a few specific camera angles that were repeatedly used in the film for effect. What are those effects? Could you name any of the shoot sequences?
10. Why were there some long shots of workers eating and having their lunches – with uncomfortable close-ups? (5 sentences)
11. You may recollect the hormones that were injected in animals to make them fatter / heavier. What are the physiological & psychological repercussions for us, if we consume them. (5 sentences)
12. Why do you think the pesticide sprayers had masks on, whereas the fruit pickers had only hand gloves at best? (3 sentences)
13. Obviously a whole of lot of cleaning is being done at frequent intervals in all these farms / factories. What happens to the things that are removed thus? (5 sentences)
14. Some of us were laughing and joking about some of the scenes. What were those scenes? What do you think are the reasons for this behaviour? (10 sentences)
15. The title is taken from the Bible – ‘Give us our Daily Bread’ – now, what is the connection? (5 sentences)
16. What do you think is the main aim of the film? Do you think it comes thru’ clearly? In what ways the film can be improved, given what you think is the aim? Do you think some scenes were not required? Were some shots overdone? If you were to convey the same message, would you do it differently? Explain with details. (50 sentences)

Happy healthy food eating, and oh well, presenting your views too!


As I said earlier, the children did very well. Now that gives me hope!

Here is the IMDB link for the film. The webpages of the film are also  very nicely done.

susan engel: playing to learn

I love this.

So what should children be able to do by age 12, or the time they leave elementary school? They should be able to read a chapter book, write a story and a compelling essay; know how to add, subtract, divide and multiply numbers; detect patterns in complex phenomena; use evidence to support an opinion; be part of a group of people who are not their family; and engage in an exchange of ideas in conversation. If all elementary school students mastered these abilities, they would be prepared to learn almost anything in high school and college.

This is an extract from a fine op-Ed column from NewYorkTimes – link thanks to Syed Azfar Hussain, a fine feller.


student – teacher ratio

Ha Ha! Sorry. I actually wanted to title the post ‘Fathers-children ratio’ or ‘Mothers-children ratio’ – or to avoid any possible controversy, ‘parents-child ratio.’ But, sanity prevailed on me, obviously.

This is one of the really cute questions people rather habitually ask, when they are seeking admission for their wards into any school. On the face of it, it sounds like a normal question, but… I will tell you why.

The assumption behind this duh question is, a ‘good’ ratio of  say, 10:1 (or less) would automatically ensure that their ward is getting individual attention, their child would be personally addressed with respect to its unique abilities and ‘weaknesses,’ the child will have all round growth and would ace in all competitive exams eventually and get into some nondescript IIT and then land a software pogromer’s job, neighbour’s (and relatives’) envy, owners pride and all that!

On the contrary, a ratio of say, 20:1 (or above) would automatically mean that the school is desperate for resources (funds, teachers and what not!) and/or the children do not get individual attention at all, the classes will be chaotic, the multivarious capabilities of your child would be stunted and so he will merely graduate from some nondescript IIT and then land a software programmer’s  job eventually, oh the horror, the horror!

The reason behind the parents’ desperation to get an idea of this darn ratio is, I believe, many parents (or for that matter most adults)  could not grapple with anything that cannot be assigned a number or a token – this is irrespective of the gazillion learning theories, pedagogical philosophies that abound. Also, since most of them do not have any idea about the rather complicated stuff like whether they want their children to be happy, peaceful, self directed, contended etc etc, this ratio gives them a number with which ‘competing’ schools could be graded and arranged in an order of desirability – so, they find it important to get the ratio right for their children. If only life were such a mere number based magic!

No point in telling them that this ratio is immaterial and that it at best is, a rather stupid way to look at assessing the suitability of a school. Bad teacher-student ratio need not be bad. Good teacher-student ratio need not be good. There is NO evidence in any canonical research or in empirical studies about the effect of these kinds of ratio on the children one way or the other…

No point in even trying to tell them these, of course.

No point in telling them that, even in a primary environment (with children in the age group of 2-5 to 6 years), given the pedagogic material and structured presentations that are given to children in a typical and good Montessori school, that would aid and abet the intellectual development of the children – a class (‘environment’ in Montessoriese) strength of 30 can be very easily managed by a single adult! And the children would also be happy and perhaps would eventually make great citizens, full of kindness, love, self directedness, skills and what not.

However, the student – teacher ratio is bad in any good Montessori school. So sad!

So, my (unsolicited, of course) advice to such ratio hunting parents would be: Please go to some other school, in the highest position in the pecking order of your ratio rated schools list.

To look at it again, perhaps the schools should in turn, ask for the parents-child ratio, better still, fathers-child ratio from such parents. You know why? Of course, these parents will be offended & scandalized by the innuendo that there could be many contending fathers for a given child!

“What the hell!! What are you hinting at? Do we have loose morals? What audacity! What ethics? Are you telling us that, our child is a ….??”

Relax. No offence meant. The schools also want to go by a good parents-children ratio. That’s all.

Seriously now, I would think that, mostly  these parents create their children by pure biological accidents – and they don’t probably want to go thru’ the tedious process of bringing up their children – in a happy and contended way; they merely want some quick solutions and numbers. Hence, I would strongly recommend a heavy mix of polygamy + polyandry for these parents, so that the child will have a chance to be normal – as at least one of these fathers or mothers is likely to be clueful, for a given value of reasonable cluefulness.

Those who live by the ratios, die by the ratios, what else!