Friday, October 12, 2007

Bonding with the kiddus

I finally had a breakthrough with the children the other day. I really haven't had much experience with little kids before, and I guess the language barrier has added another layer of difficulty. Since I have gotten here, during the school time, I have kind of sat back and observed, but not interacted much with the students. Of course, like all children, they have been very curious and bombarded me with all sorts of questions in Hindi, and from what I could understand I responded in terrible Hindi (a year is nothing for learning a language, at least for me), but I never felt really comfortable with them.

This all changed with when I met adorable Ritu. In the beginning of our daily morning assembly, we all meditate for about twenty minutes or so. One day, I opened my eyes slightly to see this adorable tiny little kindergartner, Ritu, sitting directly opposite of me on the other side of the assembly hall with this huge grin on her face. This obviously was ridiculously cute, so I cracked a smile, which she responded by laughing hysterically. For the duration of the meditation whenever I opened my eyes she would giggle, which would make me giggle; this happen probably 8 times. After the assembly, she ran up to me jumped in my arms and said खिलाओ! खिलाओ! which basically means play with me. I threw her up in my arms a couple times, and a new best friend was born. She insisted I come to class with her and I obliged, and every day since I have carried her on my shoulders to class. Anyways we get to class, where I found a high concentration of all of the hard hitting cuties in the school who instantly showing me all of the English, math, and Hindi that they knew. Soon the class devolved to us all dancing and me chasing everyone around. I learned a valuable lesson about children: Although I had been so self conscious about my Hindi, they didn't care. The only language that I needed to know was the language of play I guess.

So, after the class, on the way up the hill to my room to do some work on my computer, I was walking behind a couple third grade girls, who all of a sudden yelled 'मुझे पकड़ो!' essential 'grab me or let's play catch' and sprinted off. So, I started chasing them. Gradually kiddus started joining in, and next thing you know, I have about 45 kids chasing me around the school (even the sixth graders who are 'way too cool' for पकड़ो). Since then, I have a school load of new friends, some of the sweetest smartest kids to teach, learn, and play with. I really wish that I didn't have so much office, administrative work to do, so that I could spend more time with the kids, but I will have to find a way to mediate my time with them.

But it is nice to establish a close relationship with the children so that later, I will be able to develop lesson plans and hopefully teach. Right now, I am just learning about the educational philosophy of the school, but from what I gather, it is very demanding of the teachers. A main piece of the pedagogy of the school is to link government syllabuses, made up of dry rational concepts that are tested at the 5 and 8 grade level, to the right, creative side of the brain, to avoid rote memorization. This is typically done by explaining the processes (at least in maths and sciences) then linking it with a physical demonstration so that the concept is not just an abstract equation, but something felt, experience, and thus retained. So, for example, we all know that 1/2 + 1/3 = 5/6, easy right. But if I were to tear a piece of printer paper in half, than another into a third and give you, how would you go about explaining that these two pieces equal 5/6? It just looks like two disjointed different sized pieces of paper. If you try it, (which I suggest you do if you get a chance) it is quite frustrating, the concept is so simple and has been drilled into our brain, but when you need to find out what it truly means in the physical world, it very difficult to answer. I don't think that any adult that we have asked this question to, has been able to answer it sufficiently. (If you do try I can give you the answer later).

Also, these syllabuses are that they are constructed at the national level, and thus also with a large degree of uniformity. This is problematic given India's great diversity (If you travel from one end of India to the other, you will find that every 50 miles, there is a different dress, language, diet, God, etc.). A centrally administered syllabus denies the rich local knowledge and material available in each region. Therefore, the teachers here try to link the syllabus to the children's local experience as well.

It really takes a lot of creativity to come up with valuable lesson plans, creativity that I really don't have now. Anand ji says that it will come back to me, it can be developed with meditation, which I am getting plenty of. We'll see.

But, anyways, Ritu is the greatest, the apple of my eye. Lately, I had really considered not having any children, but how can this mindset remain when I am surrounded by adorable and brilliant children?


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