Category Archives: books

a parents’ guide to the montessori classroom

… of course, the Montessori system of education is a fantastic one.

But when a wide-eyed  but earnest wannabe touristy parent lands up at school (armed and dangerous with a ZERO knowledge of what happens in any canonical Montessori system, or for that matter – in any system of education) it is rather difficult to explain things over (and over (and over(and over))) again – what with the regular admin and teaching ‘load’ that one may have the school.

Like what a person who called herself ‘Cribbie Jones’ landed up at the school during the fag end of 2011 – had to say:

Submitted on 2011/12/02 at 9:09 am

Found the school. The lady who showed us around had no idea what syllabus, what teaching method they use. She knew nothing but to take down our details. I had called the school 2 days prior to take an appointment to meet someone who could help us with the most important details of the school. There apparently is a parent co-ordinator but that person wasn’t around. A teacher was loitering around and we thought we would chat with her…and all she could say was…umm..we use the Montessori method and hehe that’s all!! That is all????????

The school is impressive in terms of space and building etc., very nature oriented and comfortable. However there wasn’t even a BOARD to mark the school out. And no one to really help out with information about anything to do with the school. Needs solid work!!!

Sheesh! Obviously Ma’am Cribbie Jones (PBUH) feels that since her highness had landed up to meet the plebians at nammashaale – she has to be attended to, hosannas have to be sent heavenwards, paeans be penned and sung in her praise, a march-past of the police constabulary be given and what not…

Gawking and clueless tourists are a problem anywhere, I agree, but cribbing tourists are a different class altogether. If they happen to be parents and are hunting around for an ‘alternative’ school, they are the worst – believe me! Mommeee!!

But, Ma’am Montessori’s books are turgid in prose and vast in scope – and one cannot read it like the way, say one can easily read Ulysses. So, this would rule out some 100% of the aforesaid parents. So what does one do.

It is at these vexatious times that one wishes, a cutesy little intro book can be given to (read: ‘thrown at’) the essentially clueless and opinionated parent – to give him / her a gist of the ideas.

A Parents’ Guide to the Montessori Classroom by Aline D. Wolf, exactly fills this void.

This tome is eminently recommended, It gives in a simple (but not simplistic) language, how a typical Montessori environment looks like, how children ‘work’ with their materials and what not – all this in circa 60 pages.

How I really wish all the wannabe Montessori parents, read this book – to start with.

So, Ma’am Jones, please read up and do your homework. Canonical Montessori classrooms are the same, all over the world.

Rest of the parents, please don’t even to try to keep up with these Joneses.

Thanks. 😎

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delusions of gender

The so called ‘traditional wisdom’ has it that ‘little boys will be little boys’ and so by extension, ‘little girls will be little girls.’ How I have always resented, if not deeply hated the set of unjust assumptions and squirmed whenever such statements were uttered by folks who should know better… But, whatever little that I could do – either in my class or elsewhere –  and whenever I see a hint of this asinine stereotyping, I try my best to debunk it.

In fact, I would say with arrogant conviction that, the girls in my classes tend to eventually outshine, outsmart, outmaneuver and outclass the boys  – this would be in ALL subjects. It is also due to the fact that I intentionally demolish any signs of stupid attitudes like  – boys are good in math, they think – and girls are good in creative activities, they ‘feel’ etc.  I try to encourage the girls and the boys to think beyond stupidities such as ‘pink is for girls.’ (I am not saying that boys are generally less endowed, though that would be tempting for me! In any case, I feel that the boys receive too much of unjust ‘gender biased’ encouragement from their parents than what a few inches extra that they have on them would demand and merit.)

Again, I keep pointing to the anomaly that in our particular cases of mammals, we seem to be having far too many males than needed. May be emperor penguins also have this almost 1:1 mapping. In any case, there are NOT too many of such species.

Anyway, at the possibility of a guy sounding like one going for gender cleansing (actively advocating lesser number of (lesser)men and (lesser)boys than what they are at present) – I would just point out the one question that every self respecting boy and girl should think about and reflect on:

In the case of mammals like us, what can the Female gender cannot do that can be done by a Male gender form? Primarily it would be only about fertilization. I think, this one difference does not merit any major inherent difference in capacity – intellectual or practical. On the contrary, what are the things that males cannot do, that only females can do. That list is endless!

Anyway, this post is supposed to be about recommending a book: Thanks to Sowmya, I chanced upon this excellent , erudite and passionate book. I strongly recommend ‘Delusions of Gender’ by Cordelia Fine.

Grand Dame Fine systematically demolishes the myths regarding a host of stupid assumptions masquerading as ‘sceintific wisdom borne of indisputable proofs’ – especially about brain related mythologies – that females are differently wired. That they have different capabilities. That they can NOT do certain things – etc etc. Bah!

It is good to read a book, that confirms one’s convictions – peppered with acidic sarcasm and wit.

Thanks Cordelia, for this fine book.

battle hymn of a chinese (=Indian) mom

Every once a while, these kinds of news reach my mostly unread mailbox, and I get an immediate urge to respond. But I have noticed (thankfully) that someone or the other of sane people out there, would always respond with solid data / emotions / intelligence to the nonsensical and banal  – the stuff that Amy Chuas are made of…

Oh the powers of distributed computing and ranting…

Anyway, my long suffering friend Azfar forwarded this tiger mom’s book (Battle hymn of the Tiger Mother) extract published by WSJ – and asked for my rabid comments. This was a while back.

Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior
http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:onXNCQ0mvlMJ:online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704111504576059713528698754.html+amy+chua+WSJ&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

Another copy of the same content: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704111504576059713528698754.html?mod=ITP_review_0

I was frankly too horrified about the cocky surefootedness of this mom but generally mumbled something like ‘each unto his/her own’ etc etc. I thought I would eventually write a rejoinder, but realize that, of course, I can’t do a better job than Christine Carter, definitely…

How to raise an unhappy child
http://blogs.berkeley.edu/2011/01/20/how-to-raise-an-unhappy-child/

Lovely. Thanks Christine.

You may be interested in knowing about our desi editions of Helicopter Parents.

martin gardner, rip & calculus made easy!

The Annotated Alice‘ of Lewis Carrol and Martin Gardner’ was (finally) returned a couple of weeks back by Rama and I was fondly leafing through it, before sentimentally returning it to the library shelves. It is currently rubbing shoulders with the books of the likes of  Isaac Asimov, JBS Haldane, Erwin Schrödinger, Enrico Fermi, Paul Dirac et al and should be feeling happy now; what a work of deep scholarship!

Rest in peace, Martin. You lived to a ripe old age of 96 and also did a great job of living, all the while!

Having thoroughly enjoyed (actually a lame word like ‘enjoyment’ does begin to describe the pure exhilaration one feels studying a Martin Gardner or a Douglas Hofstadter or a Richard Feynman) ‘The Annotated Alice’ among many other works of Martin, I am reminded of that 1910  gem ‘Calculus Made Easy‘ of Silvanus Thompson which was later updated and edited by Martin in 1998. ( I just realized that this classic, a real classic at that, has completed hundred years of its existence!)

Now, what is great about the book? One may feel, after all, the phantoms of differential and integral calculus  don’t trouble me anymore – so what’s the point? Besides, I got a good grade in Math 101 (also in Math 505) – I am in a cushy job with an MNC as an ‘engineer extraordinaire’ spending my time (and earning my megabucks) in daylong meetings, boring conference calls & excruciating powerpoint presentations –   and so, why the hell do I even need to go through that drivel again…

I would say that  you have to read this because as the book says (and delivers on the promise, faithfully):

Calculus Made Easy: Being a very-simplest introduction to those beautiful methods of reckoning which are generally called by the terrifying names of the Differential Calculus and Integral Calculus

I would say that the book is indeed beautiful – it restores your faith in the pursuit of knowledge. That Science and Math are not pointless. That they are creative. That they are actually fine arts. That they also happen to have real life applications – gazillions of them!

Now, I ‘studied’ in one of the well-known schools/colleges (which ought to know better, siddhir bhavati karmaja (chapter #4 of the bhagavat gita and all that), but I really wonder as to how this book was not used at all in our undergraduate years! Not even a passing mention of the book was made!! (But I should remember with gratitude that the physics department of my school indeed used the delightful Feynman Lectures on Physics – so it was not all gloom)

I really feel that Mathematics HAS to be approached via ecstatic books such as these.

I chanced upon the Thompson book on calculus when I was trying to desperately to understand & solve some practical problems of heat transfer in the wasted days of my entrepreneurship – and I was thoroughly bowled over by this incredible book. Really. There were also other books (by Piskunov et al) that I really began to appreciate subsequently – but all this was some 10 years after I graduated(!) from my alma mater.

Believe me, this book would make mighty sense to a reasonable 12 year old or even younger ones – if the mind is prepared. Hence, given half-a-chance, I would plan to sneak this in to the erdkinder’s minds. Wish me good luck.

Here’s a scanned picture of a page of the book!

This is the title page of the St Martin Press edition (1998)

The original Macmillan version of the book without Martin’s contribution is available in the public domain. While it is not the same as the later  St Martin’s version – it is STILL a great work.

Enjoy! Math is actually fun! Calculus definitely IS.

Children are like sponges. Their concept of beauty is still unspoilt. Their cognitive capabilities are still good, in spite of TV, pointlessly obscene birthday bashes and Helicopter parents. They normally & instinctively would gravitate towards (and absorb/internalize) fine things in life, given a set of meaningful choices. Faith? Hope?? Let us see…

arvind gupta: learners’ library on dvd

Of course, Arvind Gupta needs no introduction. However, if you must have one, then here is one version: Toying with science – Rasika Dhavse profiles Arvind Gupta, winner of the National Award for Science Popularisation.

Single handedly, he has done a million things for the propagation of science and quest for knowledge (in India) than many other erudite people, entire organizations and well funded random NGOs.

He has been compiling fantastic articles, films & books on very interesting ideas around history, science, teaching (and learning – is there any difference between these two at all?) etc etc and has delightfully put them together, giving the whole world on a platter dvd to the whole world – for a pittance (Rs. 100/- only).

Please buy the DVD.  I have read / studied / viewed most of the content via http over the past few years. The content is lovely. He must have spent months if not years on the compilation! What a religious scientific fervour! Well done, Arvind!

Many of the items are in ‘public domain’ – but, for some of the rest, they fall in the delectable gray area – Copyright? Copyleft?? All rights reserved? All rights wronged? All lefts righted? Or all rites actually reversed?? Sirs and madams, what else – I think the idea of Arvind is noble, all said and done!

Here’s a verbatim cut and paste of the promotional email from Nyla Coelho of TaleemNet (via Ramgopal Koneripalli) that I got: (and further down, details for payment)

“Dear all,

Arvind Gupta, as most know, has over the years single handedly and single mindedly put together resource and reference material for making learning fun and stress free. Most individuals with some concern or interest in education, atleast in India, have visited his website http://www.arvindguptatoys.com.

Here is a treat for all from him packed into a single DVD titled Learning Library on DVD.

Written on it are:

1000 e-books on education, peace, environment, science, math and books for children

145 short films on toys from trash

Photo Plaza- 5500 photographs of 500 science models

Love of Live (Passions of a Japanese Teacher) a NHK Award Film

Do Flowers Fly (film based on Danger School)

Story of Stuff (9-million viewers)

Story of Bottled Water

A Few deeply inspiring TED talks on Education

Can anyone ask for more?

Modestly priced at Rs. 100/- including postage, it’s a treasure for free. [It is actually 100 +  25 for postage — ramjee]

Send your order along with postal address and payment to Arvind Gupta at IUCAA, Pune University, Ganeshkhind, Pune 411 007 Maharashtra.

Email: arvindguptatoys@gmail.com Phone: 020-25604602

(P.S.: kindly include bank collection charges if paying vide cheque)

Spread the news widely.

Nyla Coelho”

Details of payment mode below (pasted from Arvind’s mail):

“Yes, it would be much easier to transfer money through electornic Bank transfer.Rs 125/- per DVD (including 25/- for Speed Post)

Name of Account Holder: Vimala Pandhe
Name of Bank: Bank of Baroda
Branch: Senapati Bapat Road, Pune
Account No. 98060100000372
IFS Code: BARB0EXTPOO
(NOTE: THE FIFTH ENTRY IS ZERO)
Nature of account: Savings Bank

Or else people can send me a cheque (at par) or D/D) payable to Arvind Gupta at Pune Address

Arvind Gupta
IUCAA
Pune University, Ganeshkhind, Pune 411007
email: arvindtoys@gmail.com
website: http://arvindguptatoys.com”

Please encourage Arvind – buy the DVD. I am absolutely sure the cost of your acquisition (at Rs 100/- per disk image + Rs 25/- for postage) won’t  begin to compensate even a zillionth of the effort put in by Arvind.  Still, a token is well, a token. And, token gestures are important too.

Thanks in advance!

yakov isidorovich ‘y perelman’ – physics can be fun

This book published in 1913 – ‘Physics can be Fun’ – is truly a classic. I recommend it heartily to anyone (and everyone) who is fortunate enough to have a passing knowledge of English – well, that’s how I recommended it to myself in the first place! In my humble opinion, no home is complete without this book on its bookshelves. Really.

I am of the opinion that, if one really goes through the book, it would be next to impossible NOT to appreciate the wonderful world around us. Oh the pure joy! ‘Physics can be fun’ is eminently readable, sprinkled with great insights & cutesy diagrams and is a fantastic work of translation (from the Russsian original).

However, I  note that these are the stellar times of the gag reflexes – sometimes even from otherwise well accomplished people! You enthusiasitically start talking about some delightful aspect of math or literature or film or science or music or whatever, or even cooking for that matter – and you can literally (and immediately) see the eyes of your acquaintances glazing over, bulging in disbelief, as they sincerely feel that ‘I can’t do / understand it’ all the time. They tell themselves forever that they are not good at this, not good at that, they are not made to understant these things, I am like this only etc etc and so very happily settle for Aamir Khan films mediocrity! How sad… What a waste of human potential!

But, I would say that, without fail, most of the children that I have been fortunate to interact with, are always enthusiastic about learning; there have been a few exceptions – these are the cases of  some children, hapless ones at that, who suffer from:

  • the parents  who excruciatingly dote over them endlessly  (they belong to the obnoxious school of ‘helicopter parenting’) or
  • the parents who ignore their own children altogether (this set of parents belong to the school of footfallers-in-glitzy-malls and/or inveterate socialites and/or ‘keychain partycipants’).

Children are the hope of our world. Well, most of them children, at least!

Okay.

A lovely english edition (among a zillion other great books!) of this Y Perelman text was published by the Mir publishers of Moscow  – but subsequent to the timely demise of USSR as an idea, I suppose only a few publishers such as Dover (of USA) have been bringing out very costly, heavily marked-up editions of some of the great USSR books. But ‘Physics can be fun’ was sadly not reprinted at all, not even by any major university press – or that’s what I thought, until recently.

So, being a great fan of the book (and such others) I took it upon myself to copy and distribute the bootlegs, to any promising youngster that I came across, whose mindscape was ripe and curious enough to allow for Perelmanish digressions – in the past couple of decades.

And so, it was with much delight and satisfaction that I could locate the book once again in Chennai hill station, during my recent trip ‘to enjoy the summer holidays’ – thanks to New Century Book House. (NCBH); cool!

Book particulars: ISBN 978 81 234 1521 4 | February 2009 | 432 pages

The address / contact info of the publisher:

41-B, Sidco Industrial Estate,
Ambattur,
Chennai – 600 098.
Phone No : 0091- 044 – 26258410, 26251968, 26359906
E-mail : ncbhbook@yahoo.co.in

The book has been produced nicely – and is priced at a meagre Rs. 250/- (some US $ 6 only!) – however it is nowhere near the great production value (and incredibly subsidized one at that!) of the Mir Publishers.

But, I don’t mean to complain that  the NCBH production is useless. It is nice too and is in a larger (therefore more readable) format than the original one. I must commend NCBH for their great service.

Amazon has a ‘not available’  link here: http://www.amazon.com/Physics-Can-Be-Fun-Perelman/dp/0828534594

I very earnestly request the readers of the blog (and anyone who is even remotely interested in life and is curious about how things happen to be the way they are) to please favourably consider buying this book. (I have bought two freshmint copies, of which one will be for the nammashaale library)

ps: scribd has a scanned copy of it; but, please buy the book so that the other great books of USSR (which have gone out of print) can see the light of the day too…

aseptic homes: tv, but no books!

You know what I mean?

You go to his/her place, after getting quite a few repeated invitations – you live (because you chose not to die in the city) in the outskirts of Bangalore, um,  just beyond the hemline to be precise, and so going anyplace means a loooooong drive and lots of initiative. Your children would also chide you for spending so much fuel and for being so environment-unfriendly, if you choose to go driving all the way. In any case, the family knows how the trip is likely to turn out, how are you going to react etc etc, given their prior experience. They say it so many words. Oh the exacerbation

The hosting couple also happen to be members of that horrendous phylum (0f the kingdom of Idioticus Indicus) called NRIs, who call themselves, rather incorrectly – ‘ex-pats.’ Your prior experience in dealing with the indifferent members of this phylum, has not always been interesting… You anyway have way too many of them in your extended family and otherwise. Oh the aggravation

But, this couple have children, make reasonable noises about life, there have been a few email interchanges, their children go to some ‘alternative’ school – and you think that, with any luck, at least your kids can have a nice time. So you set aside all other sundry work, including the preparation for the next session at school etc and leave.

The roads have been dug up recently and so finding isoPotholes ** and isoLedges along which to dexterously position the tires of your aged jalopy, becomes a challenge – no complaints, it is fun, it makes you feel alert – at least that’s what you tell yourself. You are a skilled driver proud of your sidewinding, slithering skills and the ability to retain your cool in an Ant Colony Optimization problem – I mean the traffic snarls, the heat, the sweat, the swears, the fellow drivers – the works! grrr…

Finally, you land there at the host’s multistoreyed complex (aptly named some ‘Manthri Prestige PressureCookerVille Chrysanthemum TopazToccata Garden’) and the gruff security guards at the literally sand-bagged entrance, demand to see your identity, phone number (Oh! you don’t have a cell phone? From which planet are you?),  and already you have started sweating, thinking how on earth you forgot to bring your passport (oh God, is it even valid?) and ohmygod, may be you should have gotten a visa from your host, duly countersigned by the Chief of the Internal Security for the apartment complex. Your spouse realizes that you are dazed and offers to step in, but your silly machoness does not permit that…

At the security office, the closed circuit TV cameras whirr around and zoom in and look at you quizzically and somewhat lazily through their monocled eyes and suddenly you wonder whether your fly zipper is up. You turn away from the camera to do a quick check, and the security guards instinctively stiffen… One would think there were some hep political bigwigs/VIPs living in those apartments, but you know for sure that, after all, there are only white collar slaves and lazy bozos working for MNCs ‘live’ there in that complex…

The guards finally ring up your host’s house and ask whether they are expecting us – but only the servant-maid is there, saying “memsahib gone out.” Not only that, “Yejamaan busy” and “bachchon doing homework.” So “please thodi dher ke baad try keejiye” and all that… aha!

You curse your goodluck with the choicest of epithets that you never had a chance to utter in the past couple of decades, and hope  your children did not hear your vile swearing;  and week-kneed that you are, you go to the nearest phonebooth and call the memsahib’s cellphone number. Some smashhit ringtone with some monstrous tune of A R Rahman – keeps you agitated. “Oh sorry. We were expecting you, but thought I could do a quick weight reduction at the nearby Vandal Lutheran Chic Centre. You see, today was the last day for an exciting ‘first time in the entire history of the world’ offer FatChance – sell 2 Kgs at VLCC, buy 3 kgs at home viewing ‘Desparete Housewives’ and eating chips. Lovely. Nice of you to have come. Will be there rightaway.”

So, you are stranded at the entrance with a sullen spouse and puzzled children and look for some one else’s fingernails to bite, as your’s are already over –  it has been a nailbiting finish for the past 30 minutes.

And so, finally, the ‘rightaway’ happens after half-an-hour more and the illustrious ma’am (less 2 kgs, hopefully) arrives, and you get in to the ghetto. Sorry, I should say ‘walled community.’

At their home, you are surprised to find the husband plonking himself down in front of TV, watching a FormulaOne race, but supposedly in the midst of a serious ‘office conference call’ – The laptop (sorry, this was a paunchtop), is on and the latest cricket score of the IPL madness keeps wafting in. Five filament lamps are on, there is so much light and heat – and  hence two fans are working overtime – luckily, the air conditioner is not on, thank God for small mercies… The cell phone chimes, the blackberry announces the arrival of some new email. You feel jealous. You wonder, how on earth could a person juggle between so many things and be productive.  You wonder whether you miss your corporate life. Nor really. You only miss the steadily & obscenely climbing bank balance.

The lady is sweet otherwise, and the steady stream of excellent junk makes you break all the rules that you have imposed on your children. You would like your children to be ‘engaged’ in some activity or the other, so that you can slyly gorge on the junk. But you realize that it is not possible.

The children of the host are busy with their video games. Like in many families, the ‘bringing up’ of the host’s children too, apparently seems to have been outsourced to the videogames, TV and the ayaahs. Your children are bored. You start feeling guilty.

Some elderly people emerge from the bowels of the house (perhaps, either in-laws or outlaws of the couple) and want to discuss the Tamilnadu politics with you. You are sick and tired of Sriman Karunanidhi (and his gazillion families, nephews and the incredibly ‘scientific’ corruption) and do not want to talk about any scum or scam. The elders persist.  You ask whether they voted in the recent elections. They say that at the time of elections, they were in the ‘States!’  &?^*%$# You ask them whether they were in the neighbouring AndhraPradesh State during elections? They say NO and tell you that they were akchooly in YouYes. Heh! You persist and ask as to why they did not consider voting through the postal ballot system. They are truly puzzled.

Here they are, trying to make polite conversation about solving the problems of the world (‘mind you, we have even been to States’) and there you are, who is only interested in some damn voting… You want to rudely say that they don’t have any moral right to complain about anything, but keep quiet. The reason: your spouse is looking at you rather coldly. You know the consequences. You promptly shut up.

Eventually, the husband finishes off all his ‘tasks,’ and tries to chat with you – the usual ones about traffic, great spiritualism, crass materialism, yoga, schooling, ecology, diversity, sustainability, energy conservation, ‘going green’ etc etc. Your eyes glaze over. You ask him whether he has any idea about how his apartment complex gets its water supply and what happens to their sewage water. The guy vaguely says ‘bore well‘ (at this point, you want to tell him that you didn’t ask for his skill set) and ‘I don’t know’ respectively. You are mighty peeved. What a cognitive dissonance! You desperately want some distraction from this endless drivel.

You wonder where the books are. They are not there at all. The host’s family does not have any use for them, obviously.  Not even a telephone directory! Nothing.  You realize that the overall attitude of this family is: when our Sony Bravia or some darn plasma TV is there, what else would one need to be informed, entertained & educated? Sheesh…

You are angry, your children distraught, the spouse caught in ‘the deer in the headlight’ syndrome. The hosts are happily doing whatever they would do, even otherwise. They think your family is having a great time. You tell yourself: Never ascribe to malice, that which can be sufficiently explained by stupidity. You  remember having read this quote, in some USENET chatter a couple of decades back. How perceptive, you wonder and chuckle… The hosts look at you, rather amused and understanding.

After, what looks like a couple of years, you come back home, cursing everything and anything, all the way. And, as soon as you get in, you spread a hundred books in the ‘hall’ and plonk down in the middle of them, lie down and start browsing your favourites. An obsessive-compulsive disorder, really. What a happy escape! You eventually calm down.

You look around – the rest of the family has also calmed down, thanks to books. Nice ones at that.

You know that you don’t socialize much, and in some cases where you must absolutely visit someone, you tend to hum and haw, weigh various pros and cons and finally give-in, but only in a few cases. You obviously don’t learn lessons. You should NOT give in at all. But you are a mutt-head (no, not like those lustrous ‘Nithyananda Paramahamsa types, sadly no universal love is possible in times of AIDS). You have to learn. Sorry to remind you of this.

Yes. You can never understand homes without books. You are not asking for much – the books could even be borrowed or leased or stolen or whatever. Dammit, it does not cost much to have a few books, especially when the aseptic homes spend large sums of money on all kinds of frivolous and obscene stuff!

But, you don’t want to even try to understand folks who not only have no books, but instead have wide screen / plasma / LCD / whatever TV screens that stare at you in the living room. Sometimes, you feel the power of these dumb boxes, even when they are switched off; you shudder.

You realize that many such folks have only the following at the places, where they pretend to live:

  • Lounge room – Entertainment center (TV, DVD player, home theatre etc)
  • Cafeteria (um, kitchen, gaudy dining tables, glittering crockery)
  • Impeccably tiled toilets
  • Bed rooms (master and a couple of slaves)
  • Gadgets everywhere – including US style fridges, washing machines and allied monstrosities
  • Some children (purely because of biological accidents, you suppose)
  • Some in-laws or outlaws (that is, when they are not in ‘States’)

They don’t live in homes, you realize to your horror.

You resolve to spend the time that would be spent on such terribly underwhelming visits – on reading and rereading the books that have left indelible mark in you. You do it rather religiously. Your would-have-been hosts would not understand, it is fine. You build-up a reputation for being ‘unsociable’ and an ‘unfriendly’ person, the I-Me-Myself guy – that stereotyping is  great, you realize! It gives you so much leeway. You happily realize that you have saved (and will continue to save) on an incredible resource – time!.

Morals of the story:

  • Good ‘forward looking’ noises and emails maketh not a ‘home.’
  • At least, when there is a will, there is some inheritance. However, when there is a TV, there is NO way.
  • Avoid social visits prompted by reasons such as birth day parties, death day mournings, your children going to the same school etc…
  • But, don’t ever go for random get-togethers – just to ‘chill out’ or ‘hang around’ or for ‘getting to know more about others’ – it is simply not worth it.

ps: Yeah.  know that just because a home does not have any book(s) does not translate to it not being a home. There could be reasons of economics. Or, the folks could be actually doers so they do not need to brandish books to prove their intellectuality. But these kinds of folks are in a microscopic minority.

** : Actually, the roads in your Hennur – Bagalur area are very good now – a rolemodel for proper macadamization, but that is not going to encourage you to venture out to aseptic homes, sorry.

montessori madness

Apparently Montessori Madness – a book by Trevor Eissler is very good & entertaining.  I am yet to read it, though.

“This is by far the most passionate, interesting (and even humorous at times) Montessori book we have read in a long time. It is written by a father, a pilot, who compares the Montessori education his children are receiving with his own education. His insight makes this revolutionary educational method understood better even by those teachers and teacher trainers who know it well…it is the most valuable parent book available today.”

— Susan Stephenson, Michael Olaf Montessori Company

On a related note, there is this post that has an interesting take on the Montessori mode.

… I can’t help looking at Montessori andthinking that it is excellent, but not because Montessori’s approach and materials are inherently better.

It is excellent because

– Montessori teachers are teachers who are clearly smart and
passionate about education, and the school environment (principals, etc) share the smarts and the passion.

– Parents sending kids to a Montessori school are smart and
passionate about education.

– The group of kids is small and manageable, so the smart and
passionate teachers can work their magic.

And that wins. They could teach with computers, or abacuses or post it
notes or books written in Esperanto. It’s all a catalyst that brings
the 3 (purely human!) elements above together. Indirection. A social
mind trick.

Of course, I like most of Montessori’s approach. But remove the human
elements and… poof! it’s effects will be gone. Montessori strategies
in a crowded group with an unenthusiastic teacher have very slim
chances.

Off: http://lists.sugarlabs.org/archive/iaep/2009-October/008920.html

An interesting take, eh?

But then, I also know that Montessori is being reduced to a mere brand with not much to back it up in so many schools. It is like the famous Udupi-Chinese-NorthIndian-Andhra-Chettinad-NorthKarnataka ‘specialty’ cuisine restaurants that abound in Bangalore. Basically they serve some reasonable food – may be that bane of a ‘minimum common denominator’ of the cuisines! Nothing more. No soul.

One has to be wary of these makarathoranas of education, I suppose…

the magical child

Am reproducing some of the notes that I jotted down from my readings of Joesph Chilton Pearce and Jean Piaget – they are slightly dated, but then… they continue to fascinate me…

Apparently, it is the heart that gets formed first. Not the brain. And, I am talking about the foetus. We were all one in our earlier avatars, though we may not remember it. Foetal attraction, yeah.

Apparently, post conception, the mother’s heart sends a signal to the mass of cells that is in the womb and a few of these cells start pulsating in rhythm to that of the mother’s heart – this group develops into the heart of the foetus. Eventually there is some kind of magnetism (or may be not) that sets in due to this pulsation and the cells around this heart, gets a signal to go become a this or that in the body of the child in the womb. The brain also is formed as some cells receive such an instruction from the incipient heart of the foetus.

Now, this is how it happens: From this incipient heart, the neural tube forms; at one end of this tube, the brain gets formed and its growth & strength are controlled and determined by the cells of the heart.

First trimester: the reptilian part of the brain forms; this will control the sensory-motor skills, and houses the instincts for basic survival.

Second trimester: the mammalian part of the brain forms; this contains the parts dealing with emotions, cognition and mapping.

Third trimester: the neo-cortex part of the brain develops;  here, the capacities for creativity, intellect reside.

And… Neoteny follows Phylogeny – as Desmond Morris eloquently puts it, and am not even talking about this wonder.

It is amazing that after the birth of the child, these three parts / segments of the brain unravel in the same order – but, over the period of the next 20 odd years, instead of 9 months – and are to be attended to at the appropriate level. Nurture is the keyword throughout these stages – and if the child receives the appropriate & needed inputs at a given level of development, there is no way that the child’s incredible capacity is not realized…

Steiner, Piaget and Montessori have all mapped the requirements of such developments in the brain and the persona of the child to the appropriate age groups – and have worked out in minute detail, the material, environmental requirements (and much else) that the adults can provide to help the child. The Montessoriese for this idea would be ‘sensitive’ periods, ‘explosion’ in to some developmental aspect of the child etc, etc. The languages and jargon of these folks are different, but there is a fundamental common thread of thoughts in all of them.

According the Piaget, the following are mappable to the three-segmental growth of the brain:

Reptilian: From birth till the emergence of the first ‘milk’ teeth.

Mammalian: From the previous stage to when the milk teeth are lost and replaced by ‘permanent’ teeth – circa 8-9 years of age.

Neo-cortex / prefrontal lobes: Intellectual growth begins after the previous stage and the prefrontal lobes keep developing till about 21 years! During the mid part of this stage – circa 11-15, the child begins to develop the capacity to work with and operate upon what they have previously learned. 

 I was amazed when I learned much later that Ma’am Montessori insisted/insists on exposing the child to presentation after presentation, lesson after lesson, funda after funda – during its years in the elementary environment, irrespective of how much the child is able to internalize at that time and that the Child will assimilate them later; to be honest, it didn’t make much sense to me, when I read about this aspect a few years back. I thought, how on earth are the children going to consolidate all of them, contextualize them and then understand them. But then, she is in exact alignment with the studies on the brain. Post elementary, they are likely to figure out all the concepts that they got exposed to in the elementary and their relevant contexts, just like a giant jigsaw puzzle.

I tell myself: Have patience. Trust the child. Allow it to follow the inscrutable exhortations of its soul. Read Calvin & Hobbes.

©Universal Press Syndicate. Original work by Bill Watterson.

©Universal Press Syndicate. Original work by Bill Watterson.

At another level, it is hard to believe that these mapping concepts were developed in a purely empirical way by folks like Montessori..

Obviously – Rudolph Steiner, Jean Piaget & Maria Montessori seem to have either intuitively or practically & empirically understood this scheme of things in the development of the being in children! Wonderful.

Interestingly, Pearce makes certain incisive observations about the spirituality and as to when it can be introduced to young fellows…

So, we can’t speak of spiritual development as something over and above and special or extra to human development. The development of the true human being is the development of the human spirit. You don’t add spirit like you add some flavoring to a stew once it’s done. Spiritual development is development itself. Development is a very sacred, pure, and holy thing, because this is God’s way of being. Mind, body, spirit, soul are a single integrated thing called life. These arbitrary distinctions, saying “Ah, now we’ll have some spiritual development” . . . this has been a primal error.

“I sometimes think that I wouldn’t expose a young person to any talk about the spirit until at least 15, and no real serious talk about it until 21, when they’ve got the full neural structures to deal with it. Meanwhile, you just let them develop as fully and richly as possible.

The whole interview (from which the brown text above has been excerpted) can be found here: Growing Up Human: an interview with Joseph Chilton Pearce

All books of Joseph Chilton Pearce are heartily recommended.

The Crack in the Cosmic Egg. The Magical Child. The Magical Child Returns, The Bond of Power, Evolution’s End

This popular science book too: The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris.

Enjoy.

kinder, über alles

… Joseph Haydn’s jingoistic composition extolling the virtues of deutcheland and his emperor notwithstanding. I like Haydn’s oratarios much better though – the seasons and the creation.

Yes. Children above all.

I remember to have read How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk’ of Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish a decade back or so.  So, when I started rereading  the ‘borrowed’ book from the NammaShaale library on a lark, I was quite amazed that I did not remember most of the content. Quite sad. So, the night before last I sat up almost finishing the book. Now I have to reread it and take down notes, religiously.

It is amazing how much I miss out if I am NOT ready for something, even though that something may be staring at me all the time and I may even direly need it like life itself! This reminds me of another of those fine books of Wayne Dyer titled ‘You’ll See It When You Believe It: The Way to Your Personal Transformation– I would have dismissed this book too, as a mere mumbo-jumbo, a few decades back.  And oh boy, am I happy having rediscovered Carl Gustavus Jung and Erik Erickson

Another book by the same Adele & Elaine that parents may find extremely useful would be: Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too – strongly recommended.

The whole set of books (of Adele and Elaine) could be reduced to a following seemingly simple algorithm, for life that is! And the books contain a ‘toolkit’ approach to dealing with issues, which is quite handy for the current times of serious attention deficit disorder of us adults…

  1. To ‘facilitate’ children to express their feelings.
  2. To accept the feelings of the children as a given.
  3. To listen to them, with empathy.
  4. Offering a set of meaningful choices and trust the spirit of the children.

The premise of the books, with which I agree wholeheartedly is ‘be the change you wish to see’ – and the books embrace the concept and build a set of effetive approaches to deal with our children.

At another level, if we replace the word ‘children’ with adults, the effects are much the same. This is an added bonus of the approach of E and A.

When one begins to use the techniques, it would seem as if they are corny and endlessly phoney. But, by and by, one’s feeling of being ‘artificial’ gets reduced.

Once again, my spouse and I would strongly recommend using and practising these books.