Monthly Archives: September 2010

work ethic (of children) comes from home…

(this is really an unfairly loooong post, but please go through it and let me know what you think. I think it is very important that we parents really bother about this idea of a ‘proper work ethic’ in our children and the +ve or –ve contributions that we make to our children, either directly or indirectly)

children, moving…

It has been a little more than 3 months since the school started the first term of the current academic year – and this term has drawn to a close already… A reasonable time to reflect on things and pontificate, I suppose. Every year, in nammashaale (or for that matter, in any other school) a few children get out and a few other children get in.

This is the same case with all structures, institutions and organizations which have people working together towards some common goals – and in these cases too, individuals who ‘fit in’ stay back and those who cannot, move out. Mostly, there is a pattern to this, sometimes there is not.

The end of the previous academic year too saw a few children leaving the school, some because of normal extraneous reasons (parent job changes etc) and some because of the fitment issue. The reason why this post is dedicated to the topic of ‘work ethic’ is that, I observed some interesting developments in the school centering around these cycles.

Children settling down…

Every year (or even within a given year) when the children get back from the holidays / breaks, they take a week or so to settle down and start working in their own rhythms and embark on concurrent / concentric waves of learning as is usual in a Montessori environment. But this year, the children appeared to happily settle down just within a day or two and it was such a pleasure seeing them – like the diligent & colourful ants at work.… There were / are also very few political and social issues compared to the previous years, very interesting…

I was wondering what could be the basic reason for this ‘fast settling down’ and now I think it is because of the significant attributes of the children who got out in the previous year! And, I sincerely hope that these children (who got out) are doing well elsewhere too – as all children have immense potential embedded in them – but, depending on their attributes, require different kinds of environments and pedagogic approaches …

IT (un)professionals

Now, I have seen these cycles (of folks getting our/in) happen in the corporate world for a significant stretch of time – and but for a few really exceptional stellar cases, the chaps who get into circulation practically every year in the job market, fall into two neat buckets:

  1. ‘alleged’ dolts with no capacity to perform in any realm whatsoever
  2. allegedly ‘good performers’ who always hop for a salary hike.

But, instead of the real reasons such as the above, we often times hear of random nonexistent sham reasons for these shifts such as:

  • Job satisfaction
  • Better working conditions
  • Work not challenging enough
  • More learning opportunities

However, I personally know these silly reasons to be pure hogwash. Actually, the main reasons for chronic job hoppers are only the two in the above paragraph.

The reason why I brought up these IT guys and their ways (yeah, I know what I am talking about) is that there are striking parallels between many of us parents and the IT detritus. Sadly so.

posturing parents & small schools

I have also seen these cycles happening for a few years now (at nammashaale, I mean), and have some observations. This is more about the patterns that I read in the data that I get to see – and not about any particular case.

Every school has a philosophy and a few methodologies for delivering on that philosophy. The philosophy of a given school may meet with a good impact on the child if the child is prepared, primarily at home. If not, chaos (both for the child and the school) results and the sooner the tangle is resolved, the better it is. The subtext here should read: So, if you are personally offended because of my observations, please give yourself one real, deep, hard look – it may hurt, but once in a while it is a good idea to introspect.

Back to the question again, some children / parents get out; some others get in, so… is there a pattern?

The interesting thing here is that, to get to know the ideas, philosophies and people behind a given school – there are a good number of sources and possibilities, if a given parent is diligent enough and is prepared to dig around. So, for the parents who want to ‘put’ their children in a given school it is rather easy to collect relevant data about the school. And, these (meaning us) parents know how to preen themselves so that their vocal and loud ideas are seen to be in alignment with those of the school – purely with a view to getting a foothold into the desired school system. To be slightly charitable to these preening parents, I agree that parental anxiety in seeing to the placement of their wards in a school considered ‘good’ by them, sometimes gets the better of them. Sadly so.

However, for schools, that too for really small schools, it is not possible to have this luxury of background and reference checks on parents. This by itself is not bad – but when a school establishment meets a preening parent (as above), their children are expected to be a good fit and the admission process is actively looked into – as the agenda of these small schools is primarily about dealing with the children and exposing them to the ideas stemming from the philosophy of the school, rather than looking at the wannabe parents, critically and stuff.

So, thanks to the incorrect perception & lack of analyses, I think, small schools (and the folks behind them) make the sad mistake of assuming certain suitable characteristics in the children, based on the oral positions taken by the parents in the first few interactions, that is, before the children join these schools.

However, since verbal posturing (and social activistic talking, swagger & infinite hubris) often tends to get diluted when a real test (that would ‘separate men from the boys’ so to say) comes along – then, friction arises between the aforesaid parents and the school community. In this context, the given child suffers.

yoga of learning

Now, there are many paths to ‘education’ or yoga if you will – but all the real paths have one common denominator – the requirement of a proper work ethic of the child.

The work ethic of the child is seeded, developed and matured from the home of the child and parents contribute a lot to it. I would even say that the work ethic of the child is completely picked up from the ‘indirect presentations’ at home – whether it is integrity or dishonesty or a myriad other ‘personally lived values.’

In the earlier times, perhaps the children had the luxury of more adults (as ‘role models) stemming from the advantages of the joint-family system, to present the ‘lived’ values of work ethic – from various perspectives. But in these days, the work ethic of the child is primarily derived from its permanently busy (or absent or indifferent) parents or from TV. I am not even talking about the helicopter types here! (gasp!)

When a child with a proper work ethic engages with her learning – she cares about the work and loves it. The working and learning of the child deeply enriches her. Approaching work with care and awareness, even the most mundane tasks are transformed into an exciting series of opportunities to reflect and grow. Not surprisingly, this idea is reflected in all the fine spiritual traditions from around the world.

The attitude towards work, in my opinion, gets reflected in three types of yoga (not at all mutually exclusive), there could be more – but as of now, I could think of only these three buckets – my limits of knowledge have been reached, of course! And, honestly I do not know how to translate the Sanskrit word ‘yoga’ into English – may be, it incorporates the ideas of learning, education, discipline, integrity, tremendous focus, zanshin and what not)

  • Bhakti yoga – the learning mode in which the child really respects and loves the knowledge and is in awe of it and therefore works towards it.
  • Gnyana yoga – the mode in which the child seeks and thirsts after knowledge and hence does work
  • Karma yoga – in which the child would do the work for the love of it, not necessarily going after knowledge.

A given child exhibits some or all of the above at some point or the other and develops a robust sense of work ethic, that will make her a happy and contented individual – she may eventually be on a path to ‘right livelihood.’

In all these cases, the knowledge accumulation, skills development, ‘centering’ and integrity of character happen because of significant contributions (either positive or negative) from parents – and this happens right from the womb to the time of children going to school to beyond. The school can only build on the basic character that has already been imprinted into the children. This work ethic is what determines how learned or ‘educated’ or happy, a child becomes. Many of us parents don’t realize this. We expect the schools to cater to need of the development of character to the children. We feel that if some character issues are there with our children, then, the school is not doing a good job. How foolhardy we are!

It always amazes me as to what lengths we parents go to, to look for reasons away from us, while we happily ignore the famous words – ‘I have seen the enemy, and it is I.’ All that most of us are interested in, is in the delectable possibility of blaming someone else for the all the wrong things that are happening to our children…

Okay – Sometimes, it may so happen that a child is not benefiting from the school system – and this has nothing to with the preening parents or the school system. But to my limited knowledge and my rather sketchy experience in ‘education,’ there is nothing else that would help the child flower, than the existence of a proper work ethic that is inculcated in the children by their ‘living’ parents, who really live their values. May be there are more factors than this work ethic beast, that would help the child get ‘educated,’ I am willing to listen, discuss and all that – but as of now, I would think that, in a reasonable school system the existence of a proper work ethic in the child is the only thing that would be a sine qua non. Given this backgrounder, eventually we parents realize that the things are not working for our wards. At this point of time, it is very convenient for us parents to blame the school.

However, we never, not even once look at the possibility of our own splendidly negative contributions to our children. This is tragic. However, there are some exceptions. Some parents do realize their mistakes in judgment and move children over to other suitable schools, the ‘extraction’ is done ethically – the current school heaves a sigh of relief and hopes that the children and their parents will be happy wherever they plan to go to…

It is definitely to the credit of these kinds of parents, that they somehow or the other realize it – and take an appropriate action. Water finds its level. What we get out of a system is determined by our genuine aspirations, or karma if you will. Eventually,  some of us parents will get our children fit into a system that the we want the children to get in – not that it is the requirement or the need of the child.

Frankly, I would say that, whenever there is a severe cognitive dissonance in

1) what parents want in their child,

2) what the child is developing into and

3) what the school wants the child to be working on

– there would be ample symptoms and happenstances to point to the dissonance. However, it is easy to feign asinine ignorance by all of us because it is oh so convenient – and you see, we don’t want to unsettle the apple cart.

“The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts” — Marcus Aurelius.

But, at this point, what should be done is:

  1. The school should discuss with the parents about the untenable and mutually destructive proposition that is happening and request the parents to take the child to some other suitable school – within a definite time-frame.
  2. The parents should discuss with the school and see whether there were perceptional mistakes & errors in judgment – that are resulting in chaos and if there is no easy way to ‘fit into the system’ they should move to a different school – within a definite time-frame.

But, what usually happens is:

A: The parents are completely dissatisfied (validly so) with the school because of the perception mismatch – but merely wait for the academic year to get over so that they can move out to a ‘suitable’ school. These undercurrents (actually many of these are overcurrents) are picked up by their children, and they begin to behave in bizarre ways in the school. Their souls are also dyed with the thoughts at home. They see everything that is wrong with the system, and only the wrongs – because there is no perfect system in the universe (Bapuji would use the term ‘gutter inspectors’ here). They spread a lot of negativity in the school, disrupt the proceedings, become disrespectful of everything that the school stands for…  These children also take these feelings and go to their parents. The parents endlessly gossip and spread their negative perceptions around. The result would take three courses of action:

  1. There is a very catastrophic cascading of ill-feelings and negativity buildup at home and finally everything bursts open – and this would result in arguments and mindless mudslinging – and a whole lot of rumour mongering and wildass meanderings. All eminently avoidable.
  2. The parents keep quiet, prepare for some school admission somewhere else for their wards and start defaulting on fee payments – and there is so much of unnecessary clandestine happenings, needlessly so. This leaves a lot of bad blood. Of course, the children would realize the lack of integrity of their parents, but then, they would reserve their opinion to a later date, hopefully.
  3. In a very small number of cases the parents would calmly discuss and take an appropriate action. (I am hallucinating here, this never happens, which is rather unfortunate)

B: The school community is uncomfortable about dealing with the situation and they do not want to request the parents to move on / take their children out. They are filled with a sense of needless guilt and spend a whole lot of time analyzing and agonizing over why things are not going the way they are supposed to. The school’s primary interest is in the child and so the community feels helpless in addressing the needs of the child as the souls of these hapless children are already dyed with unnecessary thoughts. Eventually the cookie crumbles, the child leaves, there is some collateral damage, bruised psyches. All needless.

I feel that the following are perhaps true:

  • In a reasonably wholesome educational system that would involve a Montessori angle (or one based on Waldorf sensibilities), the lateral entrants are not a great idea – this is because, the lateral entrant children end up introducing a lot of noise into an otherwise stable and synchronized system.
  • The school suffers because the ‘lateral entrant’ children have possibly different values, different kinds of work ethics that the school and its normalized children cannot grapple with.
  • The children joining at the lateral entry points also suffer because their expectations from the system are at variance with what the reality is at home – the suffering happens at home and also at the school.
  • The small schools should be resigned to the prospect of some children leaving at various levels every year – this could be a part of cleansing actions from the sides of the parents and/or school – and the vacancies created by these leaving children should not be filled with lateral entrants. This would mean constantly strained financial resources at the school.
  • Economies of scale do not work for small ‘boutique’ schools – as invariably scaling up would require that there is so much noise-injection into the system. (Personally, I would hate any entity begging for alms and aids. So I would think it would be great if ‘foreign aid’ or even random local aid is not resorted to at all, in spite of all the hardships…)
  • Parental involvement in a given school is a double edged sword, tragically so. The reason is that, many individuals take things very personally and respond to gestures from the small schools in prejudiced ways.  Just because they think they have something to offer, they think the school should make use of it. They almost never pay any attention to the philosophical fitment or particular pedagogic orientations that whatever they want to do at school has to conform to, at all! And when they are somehow informed that it is difficult for the school to make use of the parents’ offer – they take it as a personal insult and react in juvenile ways.
  • Parents and School systems should watch out for early warning signs and try to have reasonably frequent dialogues with each other, with a view to sorting out issues; pressure cooking does not help, of course.

——————————–

Inculcation of proper work ethics in ourselves (and hence in our children) is such an important thing for our schools, society and families… I would even say that it would constitute the very basic of our social fabric.

I am in general an optimist, in spite of my sardonic and sarcastic statements and I hope that we as a parent community and citizens would get our act together and behave responsibly.

So ends this pontification. 🙂

Comments (and brickbats) are of course welcome!

( part of FAQs on ‘education’ series )

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assessment tests for children considered harmful…

Some notes and then, further down, a transcript of a rather sad email exchange…

Some notes:

Every now and then we receive mails (from well intentioned young men and women, who are but cogs in some random machines) asking for our ‘help’ with respect to the earth shaking problems of how to assess children, what ‘education’ means, how they should deal with their children etc etc – not that we are some hip cats in education or even reasonably conversant with the universe of ‘education’ or, god forbid, even some reasonably good parents! (But, of course you know that these latter factors have never prevented me from pontificating on topics in which I haven’t even a passing knowledge…)

Sometimes, these young folks are from entities which conduct these assessments – and their revenue model stems from spreading some paranoia about how bad the  ‘misconceptions’ in the children are with respect to science  (and to some extent I agree with them) and math and languages – and then proceeding to address them etc etc. Of course, there are willing (and paying) groups of paranoid & clueless parents and enough number of  ‘jumping into the bandwagon’ type of Public_IB_International_IGCSE random schools that sacrifice their rather fledgling children at the altar of assessment tests. Sheesh!

But, I deeply regret (and reject) the idea that the children of just 7-8 years of age will have to be tested and benchmarked. Dammit, this is NOT ‘catch them young.’ It is ‘throttle them young.’ I may reluctantly agree if the ‘testing’ happens for some specific purpose, for young adults, post at least 15 years of age, but then…

Here goes an innocuous sweet mail (asking for some information) and the mail response from the resident bull in the china nammashaale – because the bull feels that the little children should not be bullied…

I am publishing it on the blog (after removing all the personal references) because, I believe that the arguments presented here  could probably be of use in combating the insidious malaise of rather early and infructuous benchmarking.

On Mon, Sep 6, 2010 at 11:07 AM, [name redacted] <email id redacted> wrote:
> Dear Ramjee,
> I’m [name redacted
], from the Science team at [name redacted]. I’ve written
> to [my spouse’s name redacted] too.

Hello [name redacted], greetings.

I am responding, rather philosophically to your email query. You may not have any direct answer to your questions in the following text. But these are my considered views and so please do feel free to take them or toss them. You really asked for my ideas! 🙂

[my spouse’s name redacted] and I are generally busy (there are household chores and those related to the school); however, off and on we do discuss things such as this and evaluation / test / exam etc and I think, [my spouse’s name redacted]’s response would not be far removed from this response. So consider this as a reply from the both of us. (but her reply, if she chooses to reply, would definitely be very polite, devoid of emotional outbursts and may be to the point too!)

At the outset, I would say that – if one has to ‘set’ question papers for children, then one should have followed the ways in which children typically learn – like sponges with absorbing minds. One has to have a considerable experience in dealing with the children from the age of say 22 days into conception to say 16 years. One has to spend a considerable amount of time listening to them, reading the basic ideas on how children learn (there are at least 12 books (‘bibles’) here that I could strongly recommend), looking at the cultural variations in the concepts of learning; since what we could learn are always lessons in the history of our pasts, one has to be a very good historian of ideas too. This could take anywhere between 10 to 15 years. It is hard work, and any honest profession or dogged pursuit of ideas would anyway be so.

Otherwise, if this kind of due diligence is not done, I strongly feel that there is this macabre cognitive dissonance that creeps in – that is not likely to be helpful to the ‘little’ elementary children at all. In fact, we should clearly separate the following two modes of approaching the testing ‘tests’ and assessments:

1. OUR need to assess the child – stemming from the ideas that we create / plant in schools/parents/children that they need to be tested
and ‘benchmarked’

2. The child’s ACTUAL needs – which are mostly developmental (of finehoning of work ethics, meta learning skills, self directedness, ‘marching to their own drum’ etc) rather than random skill sets (such as Newton’s loss of loose motion)

I sincerely feel that if we are not at all looking at #2, then perhaps we should rather refrain from embarking on the notion that the children need to be tested right from the time they emerge from the womb. O tempora! O mores!!

> We’re making a paper for class 3 Science paper right now and want to get
> some idea from people about the kind of concepts/observations that are
> important for students in class 3 to understand and imbibe.

I personally feel that towards the end of the elementary level learning, the cognition of the compartmentalization of knowledge realms start in children. Only at that time – say, around 12 years of age when children get into some adolescence mode – they could even begin to appreciate the compartmentalization, even as they continue to be the children of the universe, looking at the whole world (nay, universe) with awe and wonder – while beginning to get puzzled about how they are going to fit in to the larger world and as to what they can contribute to it, etc etc. They collect tidbits of internally and externally consistent universes and in their own ways, analyze and synthesize them.

Premature and local optimizations are always harmful, not only in computer science, but also in life. They are so painfully ad hoc, and ill formed! So premature testing is perhaps a bad idea!

In any case, all these ASSessment tests pretend to ‘test’ only a fraction of the capability of the cerebrum – that is the ‘reasoning’ capacity based on some memory/recall and ignore all the other fantastic capabilities of the cerebrum – such as the imagination, will power, intelligence, emotions and what not!

Now, let us think about the plight of the child who will be ASSessed by adult, based on the notions of the adult… Let us imagine how a child would view a ‘test’ at the level of 2nd standard skills (whatever they are) – it will simply be akin to asking you (assuming that you are an impressionable young lady now) as to how your post menopausal problems are going to be solved by you. Further, I would say that you will be assessed on your answers and a suitable (be)rating would be meted out to you now itself! Let us say that, this is because I want to judge you along these axes of moronicity (because  I think they are important because I believe that, in 40 years’ time the BIGGEST problems that the world would face are PMS related issues, not the petroleum running out!) rather than on what you would like to pursue or know! I would like to benchmark you so you better take the test for your own benefit, whatever that is!

Of course you would be outraged at this silly notion (validly so) but the 2nd / 3rd standard child cannot afford to feel outraged. It has already learnt to succumb to the asinine expectations of the parents and the so called ‘peer pressure.’ – ably aided by the paranoia of the testing outfits!

> What key ideas/observations do you think should students at this level be
> tested on? It could be the physical world or plants/animals around them,
> etc..

I have personally dealt with children who are merely 5 or 6 years of age who have gone to the real depths with respect to flying (they have even internalized the bernoulli principle), the principles, how the lever principle work, how gears systems can be explained in terms of simultaneous equations with a minimum of two unknowns, the entire systems of phyla / binomial nomenclature etc etc. At least one 9 year old child I know had finished (and digested) more than 1800 (good sized) books of various genres/types! So, how are we even going to begin to assess them?

The solution does NOT lie in assessing them on what we adults (in our ripe old age) think we know (now) and so what we think these children should know (now)! Leave alone compassion or sensibility towards these hapless children, where is even an iota of logic here??

Again, the children that I referred to earlier are not at all geniuses or ‘spelling bee’ winning automatons. They are normal. In fact, I believe that ALL children have the potential to be ‘normal’ like this.

In fact, we want to make sure that the new next-generation beings (children now) are as colourless and insipid as we are now – conforming to our ideas, notions and opinions! Why would we inflict random tests on the children otherwise?

I would say, the children in this offending age band have to be tested for NOTHING – as we are incapable of assessing them. What we want to do is to  stereotype them and squish them into blocks of our notions of what they should know.

In other words, they can very well do without our benchmarked and erudite assessments.

> Do send in anything that comes to mind. Also, it should be something that
> would come in their curriculum for class 2 and not 3 itself, so it’s not
> newly learnt at class 3.

😎

I am just going to send ‘everything that comes to my mind’ – I have already typed it out.

> Thank you!
> Regards,
> [name redacted]

Thanks, if you have managed to read till this far! And I don’t even know you and mean no personal offense to you at all – I hope you understand that. But, even if you don’t, that’s fine by me too!

May be I should go to sleep, instead of sending mails like these at this unearthly hour! I ought to know better, but then…

Warm regards:

ramjee, the man who nuked too much. 😉

The lyfe so short, the craft so long to lerne.
— Geoffrey Chaucer (The Assembly of Fowles)

( part of FAQs on ‘education’ series )

— THE END —

the faking of news

One of the nice things that we get to enjoy in our boondocksy life is that, there is no constant invasion of our minds by TV channels and their screaming anchors & other such asinine louse souls, no offence meant at my dear donkeys, of course.

However, one does get to ‘see’ some bits of TV here and there, especially when visiting other folks’ homes  – and sometimes I do get to occasionally discuss some excesses of the TV reportage with our impressionable adolescents at the school – now,  hold your breadth, we discussed the voyeuristic coverage (and self-righteous condemnations) of the invasions into the privacy of  ‘alleged’ young Nithyananda (who was perhaps merely affected by hormones, like it happens to the rest of us) and it was interesting to listen to the views of the adolescents. Many of them had either seen (!) the footages or had heard (!!) the details of the frames from others – and, more importantly, had their individual opinions

And NO, sirs and madams, we did not talk about the angle  of the  ‘consenting adults’ who have every right to do whatever they feel is right, as long as what they do, does not impinge on the rights and freedoms of the other individuals. Nor did we discuss the bottomless abyss of a schism that exists between the so called talking and their actual walking. So, please heave sighs of relief.

Our idea was mainly to discuss to media misrepresentations of happenings and deliberately skewed reportage. We may eventually incorporate some of Noam Chomsky’s ideas too in our future discussions, in spite of the empty rhetoric in most of his ideas and his grandiose theories with veritable holes (example: ‘the theory of universal grammar’), and the deep schism that exists between what he preaches and what he actually practices. But Chomsky is a reasonable starting point. However, the sooner one gets to go beyond Chomsky, the better it is!  (more on these and other stuff, later)

Now, here’s a very humorous ‘in your face’ kind of swipe against the news peddlers  by Charlie Brooker. Please ignore the expletives in his sarcastic takes, if you must.

The world’s most generic news report – Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe (this has embedded subtitles, just in case you needed it)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpVTUdfcEMg&feature=fvw

There are more such parodies off the same Brooker, in the same youtube page. All good quality stuff, strongly recommended.

I also recall that, in that nicely crafted film – A Wednesday – the film director Neeraj Pandey takes a delicious swipe at how the news ‘making’ happens.

Enjoy – more importantly, reflect!