“Where the Mind is without fear…

classroom.jpgA classroom is typical spicy Indian chutney. A finely ground, thick paste of the most delectable of ingredients, each unique in itself, spiced with the most varied of flavors that range from the fiery hot to the sugary sweet, its real taste is only revealed when it meets its best judge-the human tongue. Or, in actual sense, the perceptive, judgmental, analytical guide -the teacher, who distinguishes each ingredient from the other. Recognizing the strengths and drawbacks of each and deciding the correct proportions of ingredients to turn the raw fluidic paste into finger-licking chutney, relished by all who get to taste it, the teacher is an essential contributor to success.

Any one, who has ever been a student has definitely been a part of this paste, in some cook’s broth, some time, some place or the other, be it in the Biriyani we call Hyderabad or the bhelpuri, named Mumbai.

Now let’s come to the analogy.

Ever observed those subtle classroom flavors? Those daydreamers, who regularly find themselves settling into a lazy daze, battling an urge to close their eyes and drown into a dream world, as the droning monotone of the teacher’s voice dissolves in the background? Ever heard that hypnotic murmur which seems to emerge due to underhand classroom gossip and snide remarks from the chatty components of this chutney? The clever, chatty ingredients are those, who initiate the ‘hypnotic murmur’ and cause that flurry of giggles and whispers, in the middle of a lecture. They generously provide expert criticism on the pattern of the teacher’s sari or her pronunciation of a certain word that seems infinitely more interesting than the actual meaning of her sentence.

But there are yet others, a separate breed of seasoned, disciplined ingredients, who snap themselves out of oblivion when the lecture exceeds 30 minutes and try hard on focusing on the details of ‘American history’, or ‘Newton’s Expression for Velocity of sound’, or, for that mater, ‘The behavior of an amoeba in extreme climatic conditions’, sitting in sweltering Indian heat, trying not to hum the lyrics of the latest Bollywood chartbuster!

Fantastically, this undercurrent of chattiness, humor, commentary, criticism and daydreaming does not seem to restrict the deft, mechanical movement of that clever student’s hand that efficiently jots down ‘running notes’, all through the lecture, which, in reality is a fancy word for blindly copying the teacher’s squiggles on the blackboard. Even the students total inattention to the classroom lecture doesn’t make them forget to add the occasional nod, the curious frown, jerk of the head, or maybe the words, “Yes…er…umm… understood ma’am” once in a while, just to paint a false picture of complete attention to the teacher, who continues her monotonous enthusiastically.

It’s a norm nowadays that each student attends a rigorous series of tuitions and coaching classes after school, for high marks in the Boards, an excellent rank in the IIT-JEE or the AIEEE, and ultimately a good college seat in a ‘popular course’ with high remuneration. Since all these rank-factories provide numerous guides with practice questions and readymade answers, why really bother listening to that dreadful drone in the class?

An average 16 year old is automatically thought to have become ‘serious’ towards studies and aim for the best colleges in engineering or Medicine in the country. Whatever happened to those much romanticized ‘teenage years’ and that love for your chosen subjects? I ask. It is very well known to our society that it is putting its children through a system which demands that the school textbook be treated like a bible. The textbook word be remembered by heart, through days of rote learning, before the final 3-hour examination, even if the student is sure to forget the data he crammed, the minute he steps out of the examination hall and is completely unaware of the actual application of the subject in his daily life! And so, the teachers follow suite and teach in the bookish way.

A common saying goes, ‘A child’s mind is like clay and can be molded into whichever shape desired. It is up to the parents and teachers to mould it into a beautiful human being.’ This saying seems to ignore the fact that a child has a soul, an independent mind of its own, which can choose its likes and dislikes, even at a young age. Forcing down the preset ideals of ‘correctness’, determined by society would only throw him into conflict between his own nature and other’s demand and expectations. The current pattern of education seems to be concentrating on these fixed paths of attaining knowledge hence undermining the power of experimentation.

Learning a chapter in Biology on photosynthesis in plants would be more effective in a garden, among live plants and natural elements, rather than making sense of a textbook reproduction, seated in a classroom. Chemical formulae and mechanisms would be so much more exciting in a lab, filled with chemicals, where a student is allowed to explore and learn himself, and even correct his own errors.

Being able to view the teacher as a guide, who provides the periodic push in the right direction, if the student strays, and considering the textbook as a storehouse of information instead of a stifling combination of dreary words and numbers, would be an ideal chemistry lesson.

Asking young minds to ‘know’ a subject rather than merely learning it, being able to induce a passion for the topic, infusing a drive to know more, to explore and create, to initiate and lead and to make students view marks as a by-product of studying and not as the sole aim, is what an effective teacher must be able to do.

Sri Aurobindo, one of the most original thinkers India has ever witnessed said, “The first Principle of teaching is that nothing can be taught’. This view on education makes learning a self-propelling process, redefining the role of a teacher from just a processor of information to an illuminating guide, a candle, which lights others with its fire, bestowing its spark unto others.

After 12 years of studying a particular subject in school, it must be able to speak to us, to create an urge in us, to unravel its yet-to-be discovered mysteries and understand it better, to unite our heads, hearts and minds and drown ourselves in it, and not merely as a means of getting into some ‘good’ college or of finding a good bride, or impressing one’s family.

There are a handful of students today who manage to create a genuine affection for what they study and provide that occasional zing in that classroom chutney. For them, there are a handful of passionate teachers, for whom teaching itself is passion, who are seasoned cooks and make the most delectable of chutneys, going beyond the restrictive parameters of the current educational pattern.

However, only a handful does not determine the progress of a nation or its systems. The system will be victorious only when it is able to create internationally competent, passionate, dedicated individuals with a heartfelt love for living.

It is only apt to conclude with Rabindranath Tagore’s famous lines that summarize the essence of learning and knowing beautifully:

Where the mind is without fear

And the head is held high

Where knowledge is free

Where the world has not been broken

Up into fragments, by narrow domestic walls;

Where words come out from the depth of truth,

Where tireless striving

Stretches its arms towards perfection,

Where the clear stream of reason,

Has not lost its way into the

Dreary desert of dead habit,

Where the mind is led forward

By thee into ever-widening thought and action-

Into that heaven of freedom,

My father,

Let my country awake.

Neha Bhat