rippled reflections

At the mid-year point, I figure I should be extremely reflective and analyse the past five months to finally start coming up with some answers. Mid-year of my very first year should be a time for deep and thoughtful introspection, so brace yourself.

Ready? Let’s dive in!

Rowling’s World

Now, I know this is a slight tangent, but Potter was a huge part of my childhood. And returning home over this Diwali break made me remember my obsession when I found my hand-written stories from sixth grade with Fred and George Weasley wreaking havoc in ways even Rowling hadn’t imagined.

In any case, I began thinking, and as my mind is wont do to these days, my thoughts drifted back to school. Most of my children are 11 or turning the magical age of 11. Which means that now they would be off to Hogwarts in Rowling’s World. The prospect makes me cringe. I cannot imagine letting them leave home, arming them with a wand and rudimentary knowledge of magic, and allowing them to roam around Hogwarts freely. I can’t imagine them not being required to ever add numbers or learn English again, or receive any training in values/mindsets beyond what their respective houses give them.

Now, I understand that it’s hard to compare our kids with those in the UK with a good education, but I don’t think even they at eleven can afford to simply stop learning English. What about grammar, and better vocabulary? What about poetry and satirical writing and opinion pieces and lyrical essays? I understand that some of this can be gleaned by reading and exposure to good writing, but as much as I love the magical world, why were they trading Potions for Literature? No wonder they ended up with Lockhart as a best-selling author. Their systems are not engineered to produce writers at all!

Even putting aside their deplorable cultivation of decent authors, Hogwarts just seems like an unsafe place for eleven year-olds from this end of graduation. I mean, sure, there are consequences for unauthorised use of magic, but there is a lot of harm, danger, and way too much freedom.

That’s my immediate reaction. And it confuses me. Because all of that being said, I would still trade my arm for the opportunity to have gone to Hogwarts. 

All right, I’m sorry I didn’t quite deliver the life-altering analysis on the state of Indian education. To be quite honest, I’m not in a position to even begin to understand its intricacies, so I won’t bore you with some inadequate commentary just yet (although I make no promises about the future :-P).

Having these thoughts does help me remember is that as an eleven year old myself, I felt fully prepared to head off to Hogwarts and confront all the challenges of the magical world, Voldemort and Dementors included. While part of this feeling was clearly the naïve overconfidence of a child, it does make me doubt my knee-jerk reaction. Even though my gut reaction would be to tear up my kids’ (mythical) Hogwarts letters, maybe that would be wrong. Kids might be kids, but when they’re faced with responsibility, they do have a tendency to surprise us. Didn’t even Neville stand up to his friends to do what he thought was right? Sometimes, we just have to let go and will ourselves to believe, even if it seems too soon. Ask any parent: it will always feel too early.

Design for Change

In deference to this notion that kids can do more than you expect, we decided to do the Design for Change project with our students. The basic premise behind this project is this – it is completely student-led. All I did was start them off. I asked them to identify problems in their school and community, and potential solutions. After a couple of days of brain-storming, we narrowed down the possibilities by democratically voting and advocating our own ideas. Our students decided to address the issue of bullying in the school. They wanted to raise awareness about what bullying is and how to combat it in the school, and target their efforts towards younger students.

While the entire project was rather fulfilling – seeing the students voice their ideas, gain confidence, and engage in serious discussions about important issues around their community – there were definitely a few stand-out moments that I wanted to share.

  • The group was a mix of students from all three classrooms. It was great to see them working together. It was amazing to see the realization with regards to our struggling learners: that just because their reading may not be as fluent didn’t mean their ideas were not as promising. In fact, they spoke with more confidence than most of the others! For example, when the others were perplexed as to how they would communicate their message clearly to younger students who didn’t speak English, one of them suggested the elegant solution of a short skit.
  • One of the boys who normally can’t sit still or stop talking adopted a whole new attitude when handed a poster and colors. He worked diligently on making a creative and beautiful poster, with a quiet confidence and careful attention I wish would seep into other aspects of his learning. He even confidently instructed me as to how to precisely help him color the border.
  • Several students were chosen to participate because they lacked confidence. After several days’ practicing their respective roles in the skit, every single child in the DFC project talked in front of a classroom of 40 younger students. They ad-libbed where needed and performed with ease and confidence, which I sincerely hope will be a part of their everyday classroom behavior henceforth.

It was remarkable to see them not only take ownership of the entire project, but also execute every aspect of the solution with sincerity.

When my brother went off to college, my parents doubted how he would cope living by himself for the first time. After all, he had never operated a washing machine and could hardly identify an iron. But as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. And when kids have to do something, they will do it – and do a damn fine job at that.

5th graders giving an anti-bullying presentation to 2nd grade students
5th graders giving an anti-bullying presentation to 2nd grade students
First graders holding up our anti-bullying badges!
First graders holding up our anti-bullying badges!

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