Saturday, 18 April 2015

I Don't Miss School

I hear people fondly talking about school days all the time. "Remember when...""The good old days when we were carefree and life was simple..." "The fond memories of school and ha ha those strict but lovable teachers..."

Sometime I wonder if my school mates went to a different school than I did, because their memories seem very different from mine. I know, I know, people can have different experiences of the same thing.

But I have a theory. I think people didn't realize how bad school was because:

a. They had never experienced anything different, so they thought it was normal
b. Being fond of school was the only socially acceptable feeling to have
c. Most people don't analyze their experiences as much as I do
d. They have a misplaced sense of loyalty which states 'My school, wrong or right', like it's disloyal to point out the flaws in the system

So what was so wrong with school, Sue? (I think people are going to be upset, because a lot of people who went to the same school as I did read this blog) Were you beaten? Did your teachers not show up for classes? Did you not have a beautiful campus? Don't you know that many people are dying to get into a convent school like the one you went to?

From the outside, our school experience was great. We wore ironed matching uniforms, were neat and clean, and respectful, we had a nice (if small) campus, we had an organized, regular timetable, with some amount of extra curricular activities like Sports Days, annual school concerts, choir, competitions, stuff like that.

But on the inside...

1. School was ALL about discipline. We heard that word a zillion times. But by discipline, they meant uniformity, control, being QUIET, the highest level of good behaviour. All noise was bad noise. It was only after I did my teacher's training course that I realized a busy hum of activity is FAR more desirable in a classroom than 'pin drop silence'. And discipline, uniformity and punishment went together. Every day we'd walk to our classrooms in lines (we walked in line everywhere) and get 'checked' by the prefects (British influence)  and punished for wearing the wrong uniform, (PT tunic on PT days, regular beige for other days), wearing the wrong coloured ribbons or hairband, having broken shoes, having fingernails that weren't very short, buttons faded, wearing our socks rolled down or too low. Even bloomers were checked!!! (If you don't know what bloomers are, don't ask.) Why was all that so important? If kids' shoes were broken, maybe their families needed financial help, not punishment.

Almost like this, but not quite

2. Verbal humiliation was normal. Sarcasm, putting people down, mocking, this was not unusual. And it usually came from the teachers. Not the good kids, they rarely faced that. I used to slip by and get away with not being noticed most of the time. But looking back I remember how the 'failures' were treated, the naughtier kids, the ones who wouldn't or couldn't fit into the expectations. We had one teacher who had a sweet, courteous voice when she spoke to the 'good kids', or the ones from a higher social standing, and a rough, abrasive voice the next moment for the poorer, academically behind kids.

3. We were never encouraged to have a voice. I had no idea that it was possible to ask for change, to have the power to demand accountability, to change an unfair system. We were just encouraged to keep our mouths shut and comply. Even in class, we almost never were encouraged to voice our opinions, to participate in discussions, to THINK! We had to listen, memorize and spout out answers in our exam papers. 'Thought provoking questions' that we heard about in teacher's training? I don't remember any.

Thought-provoking questions: "Why do you think...?" "What if...?"

4. School almost killed our creativity. You know what we did for art class? Our art teacher drew a picture on the blackboard, and we copied it onto our art sheets. Yes, that was art. The idea of playing with colours, getting messy with paints was unheard of. Likewise, the idea that there are many different ways you could visualize the same thing. You ask most Indian kids to draw a 'scenery' and you will see some version of this:

(Only missing the blue clouds!!)

This is not ART, it's a MESS!

5. We had no love for learning. Learning, school and education were bad words. I had NO idea for years that learning could be fun! That we had a fascinating beautiful world outside, that history could be alive, that learning a new language was possible, that questions were GOOD, that there was so much to know and learn and understand and that it was not really boring! 12 years in school and I had no idea. Our textbooks disguised the fact, our teachers didn't seem to know this secret either. (There were one or two exceptions.)

6. There was no room for individuality. Now, I do realize this is not totally our teachers' fault. With 60 kids per class, they were probably so overwhelmed that encouraging kids' uniqueness and individuality was not a priority or maybe even a possibility. But kids are different... and that's okay! We should be helping them figure out their strengths, not just forcing them into a box, or pronouncing them failures when they don't fit. Lots of smart kids probably didn't realize they were smart. I was one of them.

 7. We didn't feel loved. Love can cover a multitude of sins. Even with a not great education system if only our teachers had loved us, we would have gotten something out of our school life. (I don't count primary school- I'm pretty sure most of our primary school teachers loved us.) Kids learn how to love by having love modeled for them. Kids need to be loved, respected, made to feel special. I never experienced that. If we didn't experience a sharp tongue lashing from our teachers, we were mostly invisible. I stayed invisible for most of high school. (Except when I unwittingly broke the school rules and got my nose pierced, but that's another story.) My favourite teacher was not one who loved me, but one who was fair and impartial to all the kids. That was the most we could hope for.

8. Fear and a desire to escape was normal. I spent every weekend dreading the approaching Monday. I spent every Hindi and Marathi class squirming to avoid the humiliation if the teacher realized I didn't understand Hindi or Marathi. I escaped from school (which locked its gates once we were in) by reading books. Contraband books mostly because we weren't allowed to bring non-library fiction books to school. I started counting down the days and months until I was out from the time I was in the eight standard.Years later whenever I was going through a hard time or feeling trapped or scared, I would dream I was back at school. Yeah.

The problems I faced in school were not unusual. They are common in many Indian schools. I think what is surprising is that this is considered a 'good' school, or that people think they had a good education. I think we were cheated of a education and 12 years of our lives. I think the only reason my school experience didn't destroy my childhood intelligence and ability to think was because I had an interesting family life, where we lived in a world of books, imagination and creativity. I think almost everything I learned about the world I learned from storybooks. But I know most people may not have had that experience or exposure.

More and more people are realizing the school system in India needs to change. But it is a slow and uphill process, where so far it's only the rich kids who are benefiting from a better education. But I still hope.

(I know, this was a depressing post. But I promise a sequel: The Many Good Things that Came from my Bad Experiences at School.)

No comments:

Post a Comment