Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How Kids Teach Adults ...

I consider myself an observing, learning adult. Thus, I make mistakes, observe consequences and make amendments if I am able to overcome the prejudice (and maybe fear). The bad thing then is that I am vulnerable to making mistakes. The good thing however is that I have a chance to improve (when measured in some objective way). Overall, life is good!

A central tenet of the environment that is conducive to such learning is, of course, Freedom. Without going into too much detail of the concept of Freedom of thoughts and actions (it is complicated if we let it to be), let us just say that freedom is at its best when given. So, basically, you let things happen on their own (technically: laissez-faire) even when you could have made them happen in a specific, premeditated manner by coercion.

One of the best experiences of this is to be had when you are with kids. If you cultivate an environment where they are free, you get to see the glimpses of an interesting nature of freedom: accidental discovery. Some call it the serendipity. Here is a somewhat routine, everyday experience with two siblings (Nachiket: Boy, 9 and Gargi: Girl, 5) with their dad (Baba) as he was dropping them off to school (in the United States). The other character referred to in this short narrative is the kids' older cousin (Sharada: Girl, 20).

Nachiket: "Dad, are there no rules in college?"

Baba: "Who told you that?"

Nachiket: "Umm, we talked to Sharada this past weekend and she was saying ..."

Baba: "Ah, I see. Yeah, I remember, you became very interested when Sharada said that they had no rules in college and was jokingly urging you to join her in college. Hmm, well, there are rules in college, but perhaps they are fewer than those at school."

Nachiket: "Why are there rules [at all]?"

Baba: "Well, they believe that there would be chaos without them. Simply put, there are rules because they need to manage the students effectively. These fifty students have fifty different personalities, so they [teachers, staff] need something that fits all to manage them effectively. And they think that making rules would make it easier to deal with those students."

Gargi: "I'd like to go to college soon."

[Just then, a beautiful, beautiful rendition of Ram's life, called Geet-Ramayan, started playing on the phone. Of course, Nachiket was the motive force behind it. This was a favorite pastime of Nachiket and Gargi: when in car, listen to the songs from Geet-Ramayan, even when they don't understand the meanings of the words and their relevance. Describing the melody G.D. Madgulkar (the great Marathi poet), Sudhir [Babuji] Phadke (the great Indian composer) and others have created in 1956 is beyond my literary capacity (or incapacity). These kids listen to those songs all the time, on their own. This, to us parents has been a mystery and a pleasant surprise. The song being played at this time was "नको करुस वल्गना, रावणा निशाचरा" -- "Hey (nocturnal) Ravan, Don't be excited (at your success)". This song is sung by a distressed and abducted Sita.]

Baba: "Do you know what "sur" [in the song] means?"

Gargi: [Without talking a word, starts singing herself] "Saaaaaaaaaaaaaaa" [this is the 'do' tune in 'Do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do' and it is true. One of the many meanings of that word "sur" is "a particular fre‌quency, note in music". The dad was so surprised to experience this  accidental 'connecting of the dots' done by his 5-year-old!]

Baba: "You are absolutely right! "sUr" means exactly that -- a note in music. Good job! However, "sur" means something different. Here, it means "god". But I am really glad that you found that meaning, Gargi!"

This short narrative is yet another eye-opening for experience for me. This is exactly how I believe kids (and perhaps adults too, if they let go of the curse of knowledge) learn.

Should the schools too have such freedom that Daniel Greenberg has been trying to bring about? Is that practical? If not, why not?