a lesson in history

… or in sex education (oh no!), if you will…

I have the shared the following story many times in the past, with groups of school-going children, fellow ‘teachers’ and sometimes in the random corporate ‘training’ sessions that I have conducted – all lost in the twirling mists of the past.

Anyway, over to the story.


Many years ago – two children, siblings actually – one a 8 year old, the other 6 years of age were living in a distant suburb of Chennai – this suburb was quite close to the Meenambakkam Airport – and was more like a sparsely populated village in those days. These children went to a happy municipality school close by and were enjoying open spaces, clean air, safe environments… Oh those begone halcyon days of the past…

And now, these children were discussing some matter of earth shaking importance to them… A transcript follows:

Presently 6 dawdles along and asks 8 in a semi hushed tone, with surreptitious glances, just in case…

6: Anna (‘elder brother’ in Tamil), is it possible for males to give birth to children?

8 is stunned and stumped – he thinks for a while, with the burdensome responsibility of an elder brother, who ought to know ‘things,’ weighing down heavily on him. He is given to devouring everything that has anything written on it and so is looked up in awe by 6; 8 is considered as a repository of all knowledge in the neighborhood. And so, 8 is already suffering from a very debilitating performance anxiety, because the question is very technical and he has had no direct experience in the domain. And so, 8 scans his brain, and aha, he has the answer staring at him. He is delighted.

8: Umm, yes Giri, I think it is possible for men to give birth to children.

6: Oh! (with obvious relief) I also guessed as much. It explains a lot of things. I too have seen so many pregnant men, but never thought that they too would have children inside, instead of a huge stomach. I thought they ate too much. Heh!

8: Ummm. Ha ha!

6: But, but, how do you know that? Have you seen men delivering babies?

8: No. But I think it is possible.

6: How come then, we don’t hear of any man delivering babies?

8: Um.., I don’t know whether it is still possible, but am very sure that it has happened in the past. In those days, it must have been possible.

6: Really? So there are books about it??

8: Yes! I have read in our government ‘tamilnadu textbook society’ history books about these facts!

6: Oh really? Tell me, tell me more about that please, please!

8: Yeah. You see, in the Moghul history, this is what happened. Moghuls were the emperors of North India then. Babur started the dynasty. And then, Babur got Humayun, Humayun got Akbar, Akbar got Jahangir and so forth. They are all males you know – and still they ‘got’ their children. If you see their pictures you would understand…

6: Thanks Anna, (with a glowing face) you know everything

8: (with obvious relief, but put on airs) ahem…


See, in those days 8 did know somewhat about the birds and bees – but not much. But, there were proofs to the contrary in the textbooks. Given the available information and weighing the rather public evidence, I suppose he came to a correct conclusion. What do you think?

I think it took many years for 8 to get out of the trauma of the discovery of ‘delivering’ men (as opposed to delivery boys). But finally he got his deliverance… At least I think so. I know that 8 year old rather intimately. It was actually yours truly.

But the state government texts and NCERT books are not to be blamed alone here… All the new fangled books for IGCSE to IB are full of these kinds of cognitive dissonances and uselessly lame ideas.  When are we ever going to learn from herstories, and itstories?

Anyway, this conversation happened some 40 years back. The fact is that the same state of affairs continues in the textbooks and in ‘education,’ is quite sad. But there is hope, as we will eventually arm our children with two questions (for any given context), that will open doors, provide pointers and make them good meta learners. These questions are very simple yet powerful – if asked, answered and then revised based on current understanding; they are 1) Why and 2) Why not.

I am glad to say that in the nammashaale, the children are encouraged to ask these kinds of questions, repeatedly, nay, incessantly… Hope the parents would pardon us.

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  • anamika  On November 7, 2010 at 2:47 am

    absolutely agree…one of the things that I find with my interaction with students in the mainstream school I am involved with, is the total absence of even a semblance of curiousity…and looking at the patteren of how teaching is done,it mainly is a “lets finish syllabus” coupled with copy down notes and question and answers.Therefore, in the higher classes it is interesting to see their responses to any kind of discussion or debate..there is a reluctance to participate-on two accounts-one possibly the lack of content/and two-the fear of being criticised for giving an “incorrect response”

    There is also the fear of students asking too many questions…why or why not..will definitely not be on the syllabus.

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