Day 70: Growing up

I went to my ancestral home this weekend. My paternal grandfather built it as his generation progressed, moving the large family out of their rented home and into this single floor house, and eventually adding another floor too. I spent two years, kindergarten and grade 1, here and it has been a constant for all summers.

I drove into the lane that the house lies on and I was shocked at how everything else seemed to have grown up, while the house stayed the same. I remember climbing up the tall gates as a child and being scared of hitting down hard if I fell. Now, if I put my hands up, I hit the ceiling to the entrance. I remember the little water tank in the back of the house and how we’d use it as our personal bath tub. I could wet a hand completely now before it begins to overflow. Even the terrace and it’s little benches all seemed to have shrunk.

Life was much better before, us tiny selves and everything around us too big to grasp.

You used to slide down this railing as a child? I’m scared to go down these stairs, and you used to slide down? Crazy, S” Scotch 

Day 69: The great Indian madness

The great Indian madness called the roads. Driving home to visit the parents in Coimbatore, and the 6-hour drive has been fun. It’s almost symbolic of our manic lives – a random pedestrian walks across your path, carefree and wanton; a cow parks itself squat in the middle of the highway, oblivious to the high speed travel; an annoying family honks their way past you from behind, unaware that multiple lanes exist for a reason. And through it all, you’re stuck in your little metal bubble, behind the steering wheel, with the false illusion that your control is the reason you’re still alive.

Fish fry… Strange incense… Hot poodle poop… Man not showered in three days… Biriyani, Oooh where was that biriyani. Turn around, S” Scotch

Day 67: St. Anger round my neck 

Why do you take everything so seriously, S?“, she asked, puzzled.

Because I did not give up a career of ten years and a steady, fat income, to not care, acting like it’s all OK. Ms. JK“, I retorted and an unplanned stream of tears trickled down my cheeks. Breaking point.

For the last year in college, I’ve been working with teachers to point out gaps in the syllabi and identify ways to make it tighter. During that period, I’ve continued to hear all the popular education-specific jargon in class. We’ve studied about everything, from student-centered learning, to individualized teaching, to comprehensive assessments and modern, innovative teaching methods. We’ve heard about all of this in theory.

Because, in reality:

  • We are still forced to study that same outdated syllabus because it seems to be etched in stone and unchangeable. “Your feedback will be incorporated into subsequent years’ syllabi“, I hear
  • That outdated syllabus is so spineless that teachers themselves comment about how the intended hours are not at all required. They’d rather have us sit in class and work on ‘something’ because there are many more classes to use up
  • In a class of three, we are still taught from an ancient PowerPoint presentation that some alumni must have made as a part of their assignments – poorly researched and outdated
  • Until I brought it up as a teaching method, most teachers did not even consider the option for us to research and present or teach some topics. It would have been 100% teacher-driven, if not for that
  • Almost every teacher on roll takes a defensive stance the minute a point of discussion is brought up. Questioning an ideology or stereotype is effectively looked as a questioning of their subject matter experience
  • None of the teachers have an educational specialization. Our sociology professor is a expert in History
  • We learn meaning, definition and all such synonyms of a concept for 4 hours, because apparently we are providing individualized instruction to the weakest in the class. What about the others that are ready to move on?
  • All instruction is limited to the four walls of the classrooms. We’re, after all, not English literature students to take the teaching to the garden
  • Experiences through workshops and seminars are awarded like candy to a diabetic. In measured and restricted doses
  • You’re expected to continue with your research and data collection, while they continue to have theory classes through the day. Data will magically appear if you pray hard enough.

The experience of trying to change the archaic ways used to deal with students, and content, especially of the Masters courses, has been demoralizing and soul sucking. In the last two days, I’ve questioned every single decision in my life that has led me to this point. I moved from an industry where we were pioneering BYOD and digital nomadism, to one where technology equates to PowerPoint presentations and nothing more. I moved from a group discussing through brainmaps and deciding their work-wear based on their day’s meetings, to one where concept maps ‘do not have the continuity of language’ and the dress code is set by a senile lady to not distract the Fathers on campus.

Every career has it’s pitfalls; my past life had enough for me to up and leave. So, maybe I’m just living the phase where everything in hind-sight is 20-20. But it does seem that as an industry, or specialization, the education department is the most resistant to change. We are tasked with equipping the bright minds of tomorrow, for tomorrow, and yet we are the most deep-rooted in the past. The content and the teaching methods are so aged that the student teachers graduating will be left in a state of shock when thrown into a class full of technology addicted 10 year olds.

11 years ago, my Civil Engineering degree did not land me a job in an IT multinational. My reading outside class hours did. Would this degree follow suit and be just another degree? Would all the learning happen outside, in my own time and under my own direction, again? If so, then what is the while point of having taken two years off to attend a full-time course?

“Relax, S. Sometimes it helps to go with the flow, enjoy life, and see what tomorrow has in store for us. 

Now, can you share some of that wonderful egg, please?” Scotch

Day 66: Breaking point

You never really know when you’ve had enough and it’s breaking point. It happens suddenly and yet slowly, it surprises you and yet you know it was inevitable all along. Things build up, one on top of another, very soon and they all rest on this narrow and flimsy foundation made up of your ideologies, principles, past experiences and relationships. The narrower and more flimsy this base is, the sooner the entire mountain of thoughts, ideas, worries and fears that you are carrying around begin to sway, gently at first. You still keep piling them on, confident that your base will hold enough, for all those thoughts, ideas, worries and fears need to find a resting place after all.

Before you know it, your pile is sky-high and sways from side to side like a sail boat caught in a storm. As more and more of your fears are realized, or dreams are squashed, little pieces of that already flimsy foundation are chipped away, and the vicious cycle continues. At what point are you ready to ask for help?

The drive back with garden_man got me thinking about my own flimsy base and if the swinging needed immediate attention. I pondered on how ready I was to get help, and more importantly, if I was ready to hear the things that I would hear at the end of such a session. The pondering continues.

But, an important realization that came from our discussion was about how society, and even our immediate family, perceives this external help that one would need to reorient oneself time and again. The very mention of a therapist typically brings references to a mental asylum, probes on the head, and looney meds. Parents still question why children can’t speak to them about their problems, instead of seeking out an external therapist. Aren’t they just glorified listeners anyway? There’s always the question about each individual’s pain tolerance, and a comment about how each subsequent generation was only becoming weaker and weaker. The society wonders if the media and knowledge abundance has made us overthink simple matters, and thus complicate our own lives. Someone that visits a therapist is met with more disbelief and scorn that the gentleman queueing up in front of a toddy shop at 10 Am.

The National Mental Health Survey conducted by NIMHANS in 2015-2016 states that 1 in 20 people in the country suffer from some form of depression. Depression was pretty high in females, those between the age of 40-49, and those residing in urban metropolitan cities. It also reported that except for God’s Own Country, all other states did not even have 1 psychiatrist for every 1 lakh of their population. The low number of trained mental health professionals along with poor awareness campaigns on the matter of mental hygiene would automatically result in the continuing stigma attached to these issues concerning the mind.

Until care and concern is more readily available, we will have more people treading that fine line between sanity and utter chaos; people dancing around the breaking point, almost tipping over.

You humans are brutal, man. I know! Us doggies have very little things wearing us down.

You know what we say, if something is troubling you, just pee on it and walk away. You should try it too.” Sri Sri Scotch Baba


Day 65: God’s Scratch

I got scratched on the left side today. Oh wait! Not me. My car got scratched on the left today. A shady looking auto-tempo swerved into my lane, when the bus in front of him stopped. Of course, he expected me to disappear the minute he turned right, but I have still not figured that skill out. So, I now have three new scratches on the left side of the car and paint ripped off from the passenger side handle. He even managed to give me those wavy, curvy lines; not the boring straight scratches.

Something snapped in me when I saw the callousness with which he hit me, tried blaming it on me and then made nothing of the matter by waving me to drive on. I asked him to pull over, made a mountain out of  the mole hole of three scratches, and a ripped paint, and yelled my heart out. When he realized that I was not one of those girls who would break into a tear, or accept blame and walk away, he hurriedly pulled out a crisp 500 rupee note from his wallet, stuffed it into my hands, said Sorry a few more times and drove away.

I stood there for a minute, a 500 note in hand, and three new scratches on my car, confused about the seriousness and the triviality of the scene confusing me. A number of vehicles passed by, looking over this discussion. A teacher I usually rode with called me to check if everything was OK. Of course it was. This is India; you are expected to get into a traffic issue at least twice a month. No?

Earlier that morning, when I was about to step out of the house, I realized that I hadn’t done my morning prayers before heading out. My morning prayers typically constitute a general nod in the direction of the prayer room, a ‘Dude, thanks for everything, and take care of everything’ conversation, and a little game with Scotch and the vibhuti; she loves licking that ash. I brushed the thought aside and went out the door.

I hadn’t done this crazy morning routine today and that’s all I could think of as I drove to college after this early morning drama. Was it God’s little way of punishing me for not having our early morning conversation? Did he really care about such little shows of gratitude? Shouldn’t the almighty be more worried about bigger things? And anyway, what true-blooded brahmin would consider my morning ritual a formal prayer? I mean, which Hindu God really speaks English now! So, it wasn’t technically a prayer in the first place. And what if I went for a few days without this morning ritual? Would it then be a bigger dent instead of a beautiful, wavy scratch?

Hmm! This God that you speak of… Will he give me the power to control your mind so you can give me good whenever I want? Like right now?” Scotch 

Day 64: Friends

Dia is H’s local sweetheart. The mother and H bonded over their pets, her pug and our Scotch, and Dia grew up around both these little animals. When I inherited H’s social circle, which basically included just Dia, her mum and her pug, they landed up being the only ones I socialized with in the apartment complex as well. I’ve told you already about how poor my socializing skills are.

These days, because of Dia, there are a few other 6 and 7 year olds that have joined my friends’ circle. They yell, squeak and scamper away every time I walk out with Scotch. They dare each other into petting Scotch when we sit in the park in the evenings. Not Dia of course, she needs no dare to touch her big beast.

I had a very interesting conversation with Dia, and her friends, lets call them Seetha and Geetha (because I don’t know or understand the overly complicated, mythological, and extremely cryptic name that their parents gave them after spending a few too many hours on ‘100 unique baby names’ websites).

As I pull into the apartment at the end of the day, the three girls leave their game of examining the dirt on the path to the parking lot, and move over to the side. They see my car and me behind the wheels and start waving frantically; I lower my window and the conversation begins.

Me: Hello, girls!

Dia, Seetha, Geetha: HIIIIII! Where’s the dog?

Me: I left her in college. She wanted to study something about eating children.

D, S & G: <Teeeheeeee> Did you get any friendship bands today? Look how many we got?

<And they go on to count the 5 on Dia’s wrist, the 4 on Seetha and Geetha’s>

Me: Very nice. I dint get any; looks like I don’t have any friends after all.

D, S & G: <Gigggle, giggle>

S: Look at the one that Dia gave me, and this one Geetha gave me, and this one is from my school friend Anivaary.

Me: WOW! Where is mine? You dint give me a friendship band.

S: Noooooo! Because you are not my friend, and nobody gave you friendship band anyway.

Me:

D: Here you go! You can have mine.

<And she handed me this bright pink, bedazzled friendship band that she was wearing in her hand>

Me: Awwwwh! Thank you, Dia. But you keep it. I don’t want one.

S: Arrey. Anyway that band wont fit her hand, na?

And with that tiny, baby-sized bruise to my ego, I drove away.

A few things moved me about the conversation. One, Dia and I have spent very little time together. There was that one time when she told me about her plan to put a ladder all the way up to the moon. We got stuck in the electric cables. But, beyond that, we haven’t spent as much time as she and H have in the past. And yet, she did not think for a second before sacrificing her own friendship band for me. Some kids have such an open definition of friendship. Or, maybe some kids attach very little value to that outwardly display of friendship through a band. I’m happy for this young girl no matter what.

Second, Seetha already has a sense of some very adolescent concepts like cliques, popularity and standard behaviors. Kids at this age already know what it means to be cool versus being a nerd. They already consider the number of friendship bands to automatically signify the number of friends; and more friends automatically makes you the popular catch of the class. It’s these expectations that will translate very soon into the number of friends on social media, real or not. This is definitely not a new trend, because I remember the craze for friendship bands even when I was in school. Even back then there was a craze to join the popular girls’ group, or look up to them for the latest fashion trends.

Of course, when I was in school, we dint have the dark monsters of the virtual world, watching and stalking us every step of the way. We had real monsters, but they somehow seemed more manageable.

“Wow! You are very morose, aren’t you? Such a sweet and innocent concept called friends, especially from 6 year olds, and here you are already connecting it to stalking, molestation and rape. Take a chill pill now and then, S.

What’s this here? Smells off.” Scotch

 

Day 62: The futility of exams 

I’ve complained about this concept a couple of times now, but the recently concluded mid semester examinations have reaffirmed the futility of the concept of examinations in my mind. It’s not a complete hatred for any form of evaluation, as it is for this specific form of summative assessments.

Especially for the Masters programs, and for courses like the Bachelor of Education, I believe it is counter-productive to expect the students to prove their learning or understanding through a 2 or 3 hour, written paper. Are we really expecting teachers, tasked with training students for the rest of their lives, to prove their qualities as a teacher by writing a 3 page essay? The problem is compounded when you are testing them on subjects like Philosophical bases of education, Child psychology, or Methods of teaching. Would you rather have me demonstrate a class using the Jurisprudential method of teaching, or would you have me write an essay on how to use it effectively? And how can you guarantee that my rote and repeat syntax of using that method is actually going to be effective when I eventually implement it in class?

Or, is that no longer the true purpose of these assessments? Are we testing if the students understand what has been taught well enough to put it to use in real-life, or are we simply testing if what was taught has been remembered by the students?

As I argue about these flawed testing methods with my teachers and other educationists, a common complaint that I hear is the lack of time considering the number of students in class. How are we to objectively evaluate a class of 60 students, if not through a common set of questions for each? The answer is already in the system: Continuous Internal Assessments (CIA). The CIAs, at least in my Uni, are mis-interpreted to short, summative evaluations every other month. I hear some departments actually have class tests and quizzes as the CIA. In fact, our mid-semester exam is considered one of the three CIAs in a semester. Beats the entire purpose of calling it a CIA now, doesn’t it?

Instead of these half-assed approaches to CIAs, what we need is for class discussions, presentations and debates to be the core of the assessment. How well a student is able to rationalize a theory of philosophy to class, should tell the teacher how well they’ve understood the concept, and therefore how well they can create new knowledge out of it. Anybody can memorize the various steps to a curriculum development process three hours before the examination and repeat it in the paper. But how well a student can actually create a mock-curriculum based on a student-audience that you’ve provided to them will truly gauge how well they’ve internalized the steps to the process. From what I see around me, just being able to successfully participate in a flipped classroom is a great assessment of their learning.

The CIAs, at their core, address the issue about having not sufficient time to evaluate each student. As you provide different, small tasks to the students, and evaluate their performance in each of those small tasks, you will be able to build a complete picture of their learning over a period of time. By splitting your effort and evaluations into smaller, logical chunks, you are technically reducing the amount of energy spent on your front as well. And let’s not give up on a process, and pick a regressive technique like a written examination, because its convenient for the teacher. It’s after all child-centered education now, isn’t it?