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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  • sunder and sonati  On September 23, 2010 at 8:42 am

    This post is required reading for all those involved with Small Schools: parents, teachers, students. I think you have covered all the angles well. If there is real communication between the school and the parents, the possibilities are endless; alas, this is rarely the case.

    Another point I would add is the frustration felt by young/new teachers who feel caught in quicksand, negotiating between the school’s “traditions”, the older teachers, the parents and what they feel to be the real learning experience possible in a small school.

  • Jagadish  On October 3, 2010 at 11:42 pm

    This is the first of your posts that I am reading. Very insightful and weighed by your own experiences and hence very valuable. On and off I keep thinking discussing about schooling/alternate schooling/deschooling and I would go thru your other posts over time.


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