Monthly Archives: May 2010

rote memorization is important

Yes. Rote memorization is an important aspect of learning and we do it all the time. But most of us hate to admit to that – perhaps because it is not considered kewl to have such antediluvian notions. It is not postmodern. It is not hip!

Whenever one comes across this much maligned term called ‘mugging’ – the immediate thing which a given ‘avant garde,’  ‘knowledgeable’ & ‘alternative’ parent (purely self assessment, so pardon them) does is to choke, gag and vehemently say that he/she is against all mugging…

This is especially a problem with many parents who send their wards to some random ‘alternative’  school and think that anything that the masses do, them asses would not do. What an incredible attitude! (however, I agree that this ‘attitude’  helps in status perceptions and involves reflected glories – but that’s another weblog topic)

It does not help matters when the so-called ‘alternative’ schools also make hissing and disgusted noises about this ‘rote’ business – while at the same time positioning ‘creativity’ firmly on the opposite side of the balance, weighing heavily against ‘mugging.’  Personally, I would not go anywhere near any such school / individual  which / who  carries this silly superciliousness of a sad attitude. It says a lot about the cognitive capabilities of the folks running such schools and most of it is, well, tragic!

Mind you – here I am talking about the mugging of the ‘rote memory’  kind and NOT the physical violence oriented one – am not even talking about a possible transmogrification in a certain species of crocodiles into humans (Oh the laboured pun, the horror) …. Even then, there are some incredibly negative connotations that a given clueless individual would associate with, in respect of such offending words such as ‘memorization,’ ‘rote,’ ‘mugging,’ ‘repetition’ etc etc.

Time and again, I feel that one should do the following process thoroughly, in a non-half-baked way – unlike the way most of us ‘learned’ and ‘alternative’ and ‘intelligent’ and ‘thinking’ adults rather routinely do things.

I think a proper understanding stemming from this activity could actually release us from being splendidly stupid, while we think we are uttering great philosophical stuff about the child, development, cognition, growth ad nauseam.

The questioning / interrogation process (probably leading to a better enlightenment)  to which we should diligently adhere to, could comprise the understanding of the following:

  1. What is ‘rote memorization?’
  2. Is it against logical thinking, creativity & spontaneity?
  3. Is there no ‘mugging’ aspect to a ‘creative’ endeavour?
  4. In what ways is ‘rote learning’  important?
  5. Can we do without any ‘mugging’ at all?
  6. What would life be, without rote memorization?
  7. Can we say with a straight face that we don’t benefit from this ‘mugging’ at all?
  8. What are its limitations?
  9. What is the place of ‘rote learning’ in ‘education?’

You know, I have a problem with asinine dyadic representations that are blindly taken as gospel truths of reality. Reality always lies between the ideal types. Sometimes, even the ideal types are much misunderstood and randomly interpreted. More on this endlessly peeving reality at: Education: A taxonomy towards understanding this beast better.

So, when one talks about ‘mugging’ as a despicable thing and ‘creativity’ as a thing to be held aloft, I don’t know where to begin – It is true that I have had mighty verbal duels in the past regarding this contentious subject and I usually did not rest till the opponent was subdued vanquished. However, I think I am growing up too, considering the fact that when a parent in one of the recent school meetings made a disparaging comment against ‘rote learning’  I only politely smiled at the parent. Oh how can I let myself down!

Hmm. But then, let us handle the questions (and perhaps a few more) one by one –  in the a subsequent post.

Stay tuned (or untuned as the case may be).

[This is part of FAQs on Education‘]


the school of ‘helicopter parenting’

How to begin to educate a child? First rule: leave him alone. Second rule: leave him alone. Third rule: leave him alone. That is the whole beginning.

— D. H. Lawrence (in Times Educational Supplement, circa 1918 in an essay titled ‘Education of the People’)

I used to think that the hovering, overbearing parents that are the bane (to put it mildly, I would actually say pests) of  only some children and that this kind of degenerate concept is perhaps only applicable to the Occident and not to us in India. How naïve I was! Just because my parents weren’t helicopters, how dare can I think that all other children are / were blessed the same way!

So, it was quite a shock when I realized that there are these kinds of parents who constantly breath down their children’s neck, also amidst us in India  – and ohmygod, among my relatives, acquaintances et al too, but I still thought they were only in a minority. And for a while, when I was busy in my ‘professional work,’ I did not bother about these modes of amusements, as there were many more.

But these days, delightfully for me (and rather sadly for the involved hapless children), I bump into such parents who subscribe to this ‘helicopter parenting’ school of thought in Bangalore, with alarming regularity and frequency. But, I tell myself that these are the  days of glorified & unbridled globalization after all, and so naturally, the illustrious city of Bangalore is a representative microcosm of the rest of the world…

These whirlybird yuppie parents religiously follow their children, endlessly tutor them, ‘show’ them around the world including the antarctic & the amazon, pattaaya to patagonia, protect them from all kinds of imagined evils and influences from the rest of the world, lay a red carpet for them in whatever direction the children condescend to move, sweep the floor in which the children would regally walk on, ferry them from one coaching / training class to the other,  embarrassingly coddle them,  blame the other children for the perceived poor performance of their children – getting their children whatever gadget the parents think they will need, giving them whatever exposure that the parents think their children need,  the works! (and of course, all through this frenzy of asphyxiation, the children are almost never asked for their preferences – and, the children eventually clam up; so expect to see more serial killers in future!)

When I was in the thick of my earlier avatars, I have had these kinds of sad parents visiting me — for some last minute, desperate ‘science fair’ project ideas for their children, driving down 20 odd kilometers one way, just for some some random (and amused) suggestions from me! However, the child will usually not condescend to go with his/her parents on these sojourns or may be the parents wanted to spring a ‘pleasant’ surprise on their lazy children –  ” Close your eyes and hold out your hands, Pinky dear! We have brought your science fair project! We are sure your project will be the best exhibit in your school and you will win a trip to NASA yadda yadda…”

It would of course be out of place to mention here that, at least one of such children from the illustrious helicopter parentage has made it to the famous IITs, in spite of my best efforts! (this brings me back to my bête noire – the IIT system!)

I have always asked myself as to what are the motivating factors for such pathetic parents.  I would think they bend over backwards to please their children, make them do all kinds of things that these parents feel that they should have done in their childhood – perhaps with a view to reaping the benefits later – may be some parents consider this hovering as an insurance premium.  May be they feel that they want to give ‘their best’  (hic) to their children. May be they merely feel that their children are some cute products that need to be developed. May be the parents feel that they have to invest in their children so that later their brats will fetch a good price in the dowry market. Whatever.

Image captured from: CBC doc "Hyper Parents, Coddled Kids"

hover crafters

One can see these ‘attaboy’ shouting parent types near any cricket / chess / tennis / keyboard / bharatanatyam / ballet / theatre / kathakali training centers. If the child commits a mistake, they tear him to pieces. If he does anything even slightly better, then he is showered with all kinds of affections and affectations! There is NO moderation at all! So, the child which is produced (and developed) by these helicopter parents, always does any given thing with a view to merely pleasing the others, or worse still – expects to get standing ovations (and instant recognition) just because he does something significant in his opinion. It could be even his mere graceful presence or the fact that he regularly warms his seat! O tempora! O mores!!

The result is this arrogant sense of entitlement that is present in these children, to anything & everything, without contributing even an iota to anything!

Image captured from: CBC doc "Hyper Parents, Coddled Kids"

cleaning the sidewalk for their sonnyboy!

I squirm when parents refer to their child as a ‘prince’ or a ‘princess’ – the child that is thoroughly  spoilt this way is NEVER going to learn the important concepts of self-reliance, or perseverance or for that matter — the dignity of labour, the sine qua non for a good performance in any realm. All that this spoilt child would have later in life is, this arrogant sense of entitlement!

'top down' exam / test guidance

IB? IGCSE? ICSE? CBSE?? Or only the state board?? The parents want the children to take the best examination / certification (in their generally warped opinion), and the more ‘international’ and ‘farther away from the homeland’ the board is, the better it is for them (not for the children) – they constantly supervise & monitor the activities of their children so that the latter do really well in academics… These parents are more interested in making acadummies out of their otherwise normal children! Are they interested only in creating ‘miniature themselves’ out of their children? Or in creating ‘miniature non-themselves’ out of them?? It is really hard to fathom, but either way, it is really sad.

I have personally seen the wrecks that many of these young men and women eventually turn in to. They are either supercilious & arrogant or meek & opinionless! In either case, I would like to compost them, if they are easily compostable, that is!

Many of these parents do a very thorough job of creating splendidly colourless personalities out of their own children, who could have otherwise exercised  rational choices out of limitless possibilities and endless potential at their disposal…

You would think that the parents would stop their asinine behaviour once their wards finish with their bachelor’s or a master’s degree.

No sir. Bad habits die hard. Sometimes, these ‘helicopter’ parents even  visit and plead with the recruiters, on behalf of their sonnyboys – post the acadummic qualifications of their wards!

In fact, a decade back or so when I was actively recruiting (for companies that I worked for), some parents have indeed pleaded with me with glassy eyes, folded hands and quivering voices, beseeching me to ‘give my son, a chance!’ &^%$#@

'Now that you have that degree, you should apply to this MNC..'

I would request all these helicopter parents to give their children a fighting chance of leading a normal life. It is not too late. Your children are just in their elementary stage. Let them relax and learn at their own pace. Let them be. They would do well. They are smart, considerate and fine individuals in spite of you hovering parents’ best efforts. They will not disappoint their parents the  way you disappointed your parents. Relax.

In short: Helicopter parents! Go get a life.

I strongly recommend the cheeky, thought provoking documentary on the subject – Hyper Parents & Coddled Kids – of  CBC/ Canada; a commendable film by the duo – Sharon Bartlett and Maria LeRose.

— END —

What? Are you asking me why I stopped adding discontent to this post with only some 1400 words in it?  Don’t you realize that my co-pilot has given me a last boarding call for our helicopter?? We have got to go hover over the head of our daughter, as we think she needs our constant presence, advice and support – after all she is working on her secret science project on her own… After she is done with that we will have to take our princess to Freakin’ Robbers iScream parlour to celebrate it. I am in a hovering hurry, sorry.

plants dying of frostbite in bangalore?

It is amazing, but that’s what happened. And, I hope this teaches me humility, seriously.

A few weeks back – to be precise, on the evening of 14th April, 2010, we had a sudden thunderstorm and a heavy squall in our suburb of Bangalore. And for 20 minutes or so, there was this hailstone business (ice pebbles of the size of 1 – 2.5 cms diameter, on an average) pounding on everything that was exposed to the elements – and to assist it, there were these incredibly howling high velocity winds! In and around the place where we live, tin and asbestos roofs developed gaping holes, many compound walls were smashed, many decade old trees were uprooted, oh the danse macabre.

I experienced some of this too. The incipient terrace vegetable garden of mine got completely wiped out. No vines. No plantain trees. No sugarcane. No beans. Nothing. Only the sad remnants of dead vegetation…

How? First, the hailstones poked and punctured holes in all the leaves & slender branches – systematically and relentlessly at that. And then, the mountains of re-solidifying ice around the stems of the plants saw to it that the plants & young trees were mercilessly euthanized in a few minutes. All this while, I was busy assessing damage to the skylight, preventing the water from the terrace from flowing into the stairwell and then into our dwelling / library etc etc. So, by the time I got around to attending to the freezing plants, it was already too late for the hapless ones.

Again, for the ground-level patches and vegetation, it was a similar story.

The plastic roofs can be mended. But the plants cannot be. They were brave victims of force majeure or casus fortuitus if you will, what else.

Considering the fact that many days of toil had been put-in (oh the sunk opportunity costs), along with hunting around for open pollinated seeds, It is hard to accept this turnout of events – but,  this event did teach me some humility, I suppose!

Luckily, I also preserve seeds and for all the cultivars that I have, so there is hope. So, not all is lost! It will of course take a significant amount of time to restore the patches, but then, the gardening activity is heavily therapeutic for me. Anyway, after a lapse of 3 weeks of mental fogginess, today, I have finally started clearing the fallen banana trees…

Of course, I don’t depend on the garden produce for my living. But many folks aren’t that lucky. I could imagine the plight of orchard owners (and produce lessees) in this area. The mango, sappota, banana and guava trees – all have been hit in my neighborhood. Most of the fruits, if at all they are still left hanging, will eventually rot because they have been heavily damaged by the hailstorm. In just twenty odd  minutes, a significant part of the affected folks’ livelihoods have been lost.

Our acquaintances tell us of horror stories of entire fields of standing (and ready to harvest) crops getting decimated because of a similar hailstorm, at around the same time – of all places, near the hot & arid Mandanapalle in Andhra Pradesh! The affected farmers are small and marginalized ones – trying to eke out a living… Really sad.

However, they shall overcome too!

In the related context of snowfalls & blizzards – I recall various episodes in the very interesting & fascinating Little House on The Prairie book series of Laura Ingalls Wilder. And hats off to these (early American) pioneers for braving all odds, and ultimately triumphing. They not only survived, but thrived!

(The children, of course, had a whale of a time – collecting pail after pail of ice pebbles – accompanied by peels of delightful laughter. It is so fantastic to see the pebbles fall from the sky – even from a jaded adult point of view, in spite of the hail’s other mundane consequences; oh the feeling of awe that creates!)

As Richard P. Feynman said once:  “Anyone who has been in a thunderstorm has enjoyed it, or has been frightened by it, or at least has had some emotion. And in those places in nature where we get an emotion, we find there is generally a corresponding complexity and mystery about it.”