All that humdrum about Intelligence – Part 2

At the end of week 2 in What future for education, the one focused on intelligence, I was left ruminating about the differences in teaching styles and learning objectives across institutions, countries and cultures.

I did a quick review of my notes from university on this chapter to re-validate what I remembered. There were extensive notes on the various intelligence test types including Stanford-Binet, Raven’s Progressive matrices and Cattell’s test. There was a huge chapter on differential abilities of learning and how to deal with these differences, everything from exceptional to low ability children. We did extensive practice on preparing lesson plans to cater to multiple intelligences. In the last two years at school, I had not used a single one of these intelligence tests, I had participated in various discussions that segregated children based on abilities, and had prepared many lessons to cater to various intelligence types.

And what did the WFE do? Have a lecture that simply focused on squashing most of these traditional interpretations of intelligence. Professor Stobart wove in various examples of successful people from our lives to prove that factors like opportunities, family drive, teacher willingness and societal culture affect our intelligence extensively. He spoke about an expert learner, and how deliberate practice distinguishes children’s learning more than inherent abilities. Most importantly, he spoke about how customizing our teaching by catering to specific ‘learning abilities’ boxes children and gives them very little scope to move to an zone of higher ability.

What I perceived was for their good

This last aspect was alive for me in school; children admitted through the Right to Education scheme came from socio-economic backgrounds that stripped the context of learning from them entirely. The language and the topics of conversations at home left them feeling alien to the discussions in school. Most of them sat in class staring vacantly back at us, copying copious (yet meaningless) notes from their peers, or looking out the window at the tree, with eyes that yearned for freedom from this cage.

And our solution to this major concern was to give them ability-focused, special education. While the rest of the class learnt identification of continuous and perfect tenses, this class (of ‘low ability children’) learnt spellings for basic 4 letter words. We just conveniently demoted them down two levels because they were not learning at the current level, eventually forcing them down a path that gave them fewer opportunities, lesser learning and a life-long brand.

Tests, Ranks and Exams

My own education over the years has been flooded with tests, exams and ranks. Like the weekly class tests and monthly tests and term-end exams were not sufficient, I even wrote olympiads to see how my learning compared against children in my zone, city, and the country.

Since I managed to stay in the top 3% of the class in most grades, I feel like I wasn’t pressured too much, performance-wise. Of course, the crux of ranks is their relativity and there was always some loophole in them to make you feel miserable and incompetent. If I was a little too ecstatic about a second or a third rank in class, a visit to the ancestral home was sufficient to burst one’s bubble; uncles and cousins would flaunt their perfect records of first rank, right from when they started teething. If I was joyfully dragged my parents in to meet the teacher, fully aware of my second rank ‘victory’, the teacher would highlight the huge marks difference between the first rank child and me, imploring me to study harder the next time.

In the end, I believe that the person that I am today is purely because of that judgement of intelligence over the years of schooling. The final ranks in grade 10 decided where I went to study higher secondary, final marks in grade 12 combined with the ominous rank from the entrance exams decided which university I went to for my under-graduate studies. Which branch I selected was also driven by this, automatically putting my engineering degree below the more worthy ones.

The person that I am today is a culmination of all the experiences over all these years. So, my life, in fact, has been driven by the educational opportunities presented, which were driven by the system’s gauge of my intelligence.

Learner for life?

I definitely consider myself a learner, albeit not an expert learner. I catch myself being curious about a lot of things and with the urge to keep myself appraised with things that excite me. I find myself learning through various mediums and methods, and more often driven by the joy of learning than the outcome or benefits of learning.

Day 140: 2017 Highs – Bhored

It’s 2018. 2017 has gone by, and the cyberspace is overflowing with messages of positivism in the upcoming year, reviews of the year that went by and promises for the new year. Here’s my year in review but focused on the major highs and the lows.

Bhor-ed

The summer spent in a little town, south of Pune, definitely tops the list of highlights for the year.

The internship started at the end of Year 1 in the new career, at a point when the University and the teachers had left a strong sense of doubt in my mind. While the subjects were novel and insightful, a welcome change from the days of Engineering, the methods of teaching, the mindset of the teachers, and the management, in general, where a hard reality-check of an industry overflowing with archaic ideologies and bureaucracy. I was left questioning their ancient ways, and the effect that they were having on the minds of the next generation. The pain compounded when the realization sunk in that this was a department training teachers, tasked with equipping the citizen for tomorrow.

It was with that broken morale that I joined the group of educationists in Bhor, and the group saved me from the dark dungeons of my own mind. I realized that while I was stuck in a place that was still shuffling in the industrial era of education, there were agencies out there that had moved on to the modern ages. The group made me realize that all it takes is a few like-minded souls to get together in order to bring a change in any area that one is passionate about. The gang reinstated in my mind the belief that all one needs in life is hope to keep surviving. The team also reaffirmed the idea in my head that it was very easy to join a certain school of thought, make its registers our own, but that it took an open mind to walk the middle path and understand both points of view.

  • The whole experience reinstated my respect for simplified living. One does not really need three different sizes of coffee pots or five dupattas in varying shades of the same black. The clarity that comes with losing clutter is very powerful and the month at Bhor helped me realize that.

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Some chai and samosas at the school

  • The weekly Tuesday markets were absolute fun. We were the outsiders that got stared at every time we went out of the house. And yet, I did not feel the awkwardness that typically comes with walking out in public in the cities.
  • The sunrise and the sunset were absolutely out of this world. We did not have to drive 100 kms away from the city, hike up 2 hours and fight off a crowd for the best views. I looked out the window at day break and there it was, the beaming ball of fire. Equally easy was the sunset. And the million stars that popped out when you looked up at the night sky are hard to come by even 100 kms away from the city.
  • The planning that goes into running a household is beyond compare. From picking up groceries on a Tuesday for the whole week ahead, to planning dinner-breakfast-lunch for the next day, everything was done systematically. This completely removed the last minute frantic run that one normally does before a meal. This experience helped me tremendously in planning for Keto. Yay!

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And, we made amazing an Chocolate Cake!

  • Fooood! The mallu mango curry, the great chicken curry, the super-thick lassi/malai, the chocolate cake, the banana bread, the yellow pumpkin pooris, the overly simple yet tasty sabudana poha. There was just too much of too yummy food to keep us going.
  • At the end of the day, the highlight of the whole trip was the quality of the conversations. Whether we were arguing about something or agreeing to the same perspective, whether we were discussing the men in our lives, there was a high level of involvement and zeal in the conversation and immense respect for the parties in the discussion.

 

They were very different people, with varied interests and life experiences. They were very successful in their lives; Doctorates, educationists and designers. Some walked the straight-out leftist path, while others trod a little left of center. Some wanted technology to play a larger role in education while others didn’t care too much. Nonetheless, they loved talking education, especially with each other; they loved goofing around while getting serious work done; they had an open mind to try varied things, and were learners for life.

Here’s to more such great company in the years to come!

dav

Day 92: Am I getting all religious now? 

I knew it the minute I got ready for my drive to college that it was going to be a different day. The mind said so. And the difference became evident when I started the car, connected it to YouTube, and started playing Kanda Sashti Kavacham. I mumbled the words, sometimes matching up with Soolamangalam’s pitch, and drove along. I had only one manic outburst, and I don’t even remember who it was right now.

But the rest of the way, there was a certain calmness in my driving today when compared to the usual manic rage. I’ve told a number of people how drivers typically went through the 5 stages of grief when it came to Bangalore traffic and that I was stuck in Anger for almost two years now. I felt that stage wane and I realized that I had directly moved to acceptance. As the black Honda behind me honked his way between lanes and zigzagged around, I knew he wasn’t going far. As I pulled up, calmly, by him at the traffic signal, I gave him the look a mature adult would give a vagrant teenager. Grow up child!

Acceptance

There was a similar acceptance in class towards GDs pettiness as well. As A told me more about her antics, of how she created an attendance sheet just to mark me Absent and how she warned A to grow up or ‘everybody’ would bulldoze her, I smiled internally and reminded myself that I was an adult. And that such pettiness did not affect me.

It had affected me yesterday. Deeply. But today was a brand new Tuesday and I choose to be the adult. Was I becoming religious now? :=)

Richmond

The song reminded me of Sundays in Richmond, VA. I’d visit the shopping mall of a temple, to get some quiet and peace. Well, not really; because the country itself was quiet when compared to India. Maybe I went every week to feel a little hit of home around me. They had printed books with the entire lyrics and they played the exact version of Kanda Sashti Kavacham that I was used to. Strangers, in different corners of the temple, would follow along with the song, and I would join in. I would sit for the 20 odd minutes it ran, and get up almost immediately when it was done and leave. There were very few days when I’d wait for the Aarti afterward.

A weird routine. A regular routine. For two long years. Had I been religious all along?

Religious? You? C’mon, S! I’ve seen you wave at the puja room and run out the door. Amma is religious, what with her flowers and incense and all. You? Ha! 

Anyway, how about some of that omelet for me now? Maybe if I rest my nose on your leg, the force will be strong. ” Scotch