Friday, May 18, 2018

Rules Ensure Safety Of All

The issue I want to address in this article is of great relevance and utmost importance i.e. adherence to rules, regulations and laws. Let us understand what do these terms stand for. Rules are the statements that establish a principle or standard, and serves as a norm for guiding or mandating action or conduct. The main difference between rules and laws is the consequences associated with breaking them. While each is developed to invoke a sense of order, fair play, and safety, the weight of a law is much heavier than the weight of a ruleLaws are like the legal version of rules.
Our life is a part of a social contract. Being a part of this we get into the habit of following certain set of norms, both societal and legal. Societal norms are intricate and are intertwined with various cultural and religious beliefs. On one hand we are obliged to follow norms and rules and on the other hand law ensures that we follow them under legal terms. Talking about India in particular, I have observed that we not only celebrate our culture and diverse religious beliefs but also strive hard to follow what the culture and society dictates. Indians easily take offense when their religious and cultural beliefs are hurt. We are so sensitive about them that we cannot even tolerate someone expressing any opinions contrary to us. I appreciate this kind of sensitivity and respect but it is often seen that this respect takes the form of aggression and violence which brings our peaceful and nurturing culture and the sublimity of our religious diversity and the values propagated by them into question.
What happens to this passion when it comes to the adherence to laws? “Supreme Court has given many revolutionary decisions. It’s rulings in 2017 strengthened fundamental rights, equal rights for women, and accountability for security forces violations. In August, the court declared the right to individual privacy “intrinsic” and fundamental under the country’s constitution, and emphasized the constitution’s protections, including free speech, rule of law, and “guarantees against authoritarian behaviour.” That month, the court also ended the practice of “triple talaq”. But over the course of time we have seen people protesting against many legal decisions and show violent protest to get their demands accepted. It is totally correct to raise your voice in order to ask for your rights but the violence and aggression that results out of the protests presents a gruesome picture of our country.
Indians follow all rules and laws when they are in a foreign country, in the Western world. However, when they are in India, they usually don’t follow laws. The basic reason for this is lenient laws and deeply rooted corruption.  Another reason is the casual attitude of our citizens. On one hand our country is famous for its “jugaad” in any situation and on the other hand we are criticized for our “chalta hai” attitude. From breaking traffic rules to damaging public property, our attitude has become sloppy and casual. So, if this is the attitude of our elders, what do we expect our children to follow? Also, our education system which had inherited subjects like “Moral Science” at the time of Independence and till about 15 years later, gave the subject a miss, thinking it to be a “missionary” subject, against Indian values, conveniently, again forgetting that “Morality” is generic and is defined by times, beliefs and contexts rather than a religious group.
There are many reasons for this type of approach but the most important is the way we are brought up and the way things happen around an individual from childhood to the adulthood. Do our children not see that if father is stopped for not wearing the helmet or seatbelt then he can manage the person responsible for enforcing the rule? Do they not observe us using mobile while driving motorbike and cars? Children know it well how ‘connections and relations` are used to flout the rules.  Observing all this kids also become lenient towards laws and get into the habit of taking the traffic rules casually (zebra crossing has lost its importance as people have stopped using it appropriately, dumping garbage anywhere on the street has become a norm and protest against government policies without even understanding them has become a way of life which makes the way we are treating democracy questionable.
Over the years the parents at home and the teachers in the schools have become so much `accommodating` for the children not following the norms set for everybody. They get away with any rule broken by them and when the same is repeated it becomes their habit. And this is the main reason that we grow with attitude that rules are made to be broken. So there seems to be nothing wrong with rules and laws (which we have in plenty) but the way behave and do not obey them is unfortunate. If the children see the adults value and follow the rules at home and outside then the kind of situation we are in can be managed. No society can survive without some norms followed by all. Recent incidents of protests and statements (by self-made champions of a particular group or sect) against the decisions of our honorable courts are not all healthy for the democracy and the country. For this we adult and the people in responsible position will have to take a call and follow what we want our children to do.
Lord Krishna says in Gita (3:21): “Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.” When it comes to Indians, elections and selecting our leaders becomes not only a matter of suffrage but also an emotional matter. This puts a great sense of responsibilities on our leaders. It is quite unfortunate that our leaders have been unsuccessful in implementation of laws and breech of laws has just become an excuse for the parties to blame each other for political gains. Being in the field of education for almost my entire life I advise my teacher colleeagues time and again to present themselves as the perfect role models for the kids. I tell them that they have to live two lives. One is their personal life and the other is their life as a teacher; a teacher who is the epitome of exemplary moral and social behaviour.  But examples set in the school are not enough. When kids see some of their elders and a few leaders being casual about laws, they feel that it is easy to break rules and get away with it.
Establishing and enforcing rules is a labour of love that helps guard your child's safety while increasing her/his sense of cooperation and acceptance. Far from limiting her/him, the boundaries you set now will give her/him the security she/he needs to become more responsible and independent as she/he grows. We have to tell our kids that rules are for their benefit. Give them this situation, “Just imagine what life would be like without any rules. What if anyone was allowed to take anything they wanted, including your stuff? What if people were allowed to drive their cars on sidewalks? If there are no rules to follow, things could get chaotic and dangerous.” We will need to explain this to them, “If it seems like there's no sufficient justification for the rule, don't ignore or break the rule. Instead, determine what you can do to try to change the rule. Working within the rules to change the rules is something legislators do every day all over the world.”
We as a society will also have to reflect upon the way we treat our kids when they voice their opinion against certain rules, social conventions and government policies. Isn’t it strange that in schools children are loved, heard, encouraged to voice their opinion, nurtured and respected and when they go to college and put forth their opinion, they are treated with violence and charges of sedition? Isn’t it our failure that we cannot communicate the purpose behind the laws and discuss issues with them with reason and logic?
With these questions I leave you to ponder. Communication is the key. With better communication, conversation and understanding we can make a lot of difference. I would conclude with these thought provoking lines:
“I used to think that when I grew up there wouldn't be so many rules. Back in elementary school there were rules about what entrance you used in the morning, what door you used going home, when you could talk in the library and how many drinks of water you could get during recess. And there was always somebody watching to make sure.
What I'm finding out about growing older is that there are just as many rules about lots of things, but there's nobody watching.” 
Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Friday, May 11, 2018

Raising Reflective Kids

Hesiod, a Greek poet of 700BC era once wrote “I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today. All youth are reckless beyond words. When I was a boy we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders. The present youth are impatient of restraints.”
 Even after so many years this statement is repeated and was repeated by the previous generations also and probably will continue to be used in future also. In my general discussion with parents and teachers, I often come across this phrase “kids these days”. Many parents and teachers conveniently categorize present generation children into a group which is devoid of patience and understanding of the “ways of the world”. These statements might sound familiar; “Kids of this generation do not respect and abide by the rules, kids these days do not value the resources, kids these days have become impulsive and reactive” etcetera. How funnily indifferent we have become to the fact that these impressionable minds emulate, use the resources that we provide in the way we use them, value the things that they are taught to value and react in a manner they observe people reacting around them. The children learn fast from the environment they grow in and most of us ignore this fact.
Where ever we look around these days, we see chaos, we hear noise. Everyone wants to be heard and no one wants to listen. Be it our politicians in Lok Sabha, a discussion panel on TV or group of adults arguing at home; our kids today are exposed to lots of reaction. They have to worry about how their parents will react if they share something with them, how the “people” would react to their achievements, shortcomings and thoughts. Brought up in this “super-reactive environment” our kids are losing on a very important quality, their capacity to be reflective.
This lack of reflection is resulting into aggression among teenagers which adversely affects their life. They tend to shout to get their opinion heard. Rather they “have to” shout to voice their opinions. They tend to be defensive and loud in order to fight with their insecurities as they know people around are going to judge instead of understanding. In many cases, I have observed a child’s face turning stoic and indifferent when she/he is asked about the breech of discipline she/he committed or is enquired about any mistake done on her/his part. We take this indifference as rudeness and disrespect instead of understanding the psychology of the child in that situation where she/he is being blamed and questioned.
Lois Olson, Founder of the Montessori Children's House Inc. Laramie, suggests that we as parents and teachers should be proactive or reflective in our approach while dealing with the kids rather than being reactive. Reactive approach means, reacting to problems when they occur instead of doing something to prevent them. There is a tendency to act on impulse to establish immediate control. It can be manipulative. It includes, controlling the child with commands and ongoing directives, expecting the child to do what you want instead of understanding the child’s abilities, telling a child how he or she should feel about a situation, shaming and blaming when there is a mistake or problem, punishing and isolating when there is misbehavior, ignoring your child’s emotional needs and regarding the child as a problem and burden etc.”
Focusing on how “reactive” kids have become these days we forget a simple law proposed by Newton, “Every action has equal and opposite reaction” or the biological concept of “response to stimuli”. To put it in simple words, kids will react in response to the way parents, elders and teachers act. To raise reflective kids we need to focus on “reflective parenting and reflective teaching”.
Dr. Regina Pally’ , psychiatrist and Co-founder and Assistant Director of the Center for Reflective Parenting in Los Angeles, recommends on raising children to not be reactive, but instead to be more reflective. She says, “The world has become much more reactive, which of course fuels the lack of cooperation and collaboration.”
Both Pally and Olson suggest that we as parents and teachers need to establish a rapport with our kids so that the kids feel interactive and free to communicate instead of being defensive and thereby aggressive. Proactive or reflective approach includes, Creating or controlling a situation by causing something to happen rather than responding to it after it has happened, managing the environment instead of controlling the child, having reasonable expectations that are developmentally and age appropriate for the child, preparing the child for big changes through explanation and dialog, respecting the child’s unique and individual temperament and learning process, separating the deed from the doer, giving positive attention and encouragement on an ongoing basis, honoring the child’s feelings and believing the best of your child’s intentions and showing open affection and high regard for the child.”
There is nothing wrong in expecting our kids to be thoughtful before they respond but before expecting this we will have to be mindful. We will have to understand their situation and reflect accordingly so that they can also learn the correct way to respond towards people and situations.  Mindfulness has its roots in eastern practices such as meditation and yoga, which are incredibly powerful for calming the mind and body. We should try and include it in our routines as well as our kid’s.
To conclude I would like to say, “more power to reflective parents and teachers” as teachers and parents these days have a lot of responsibility. The times are grim and we will ourselves have to become the examples that we want our kids to emulate. Let us focus more on reflection so that our kids can respond sensitively. Those with a gift for action, for their part, often express contempt for those whose gifts are more reflective. People of action like to say, “Those who can, do, those who can't, teach,’’; forgetting that those who teach get to write the history books.”

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Value The Present And Future Will Take Care Of Itself

Beginning of a new session always brings a lot of enthusiasm and excitement in the lives of students. It gives them an opportunity to turn a new leaf and start afresh. Reflecting upon their shortcomings and building on their strengths, kids aspire to reach new heights. The new session becomes all the more special for class XI students who commence a new academic journey, choosing a stream based on their interest and aptitude. But this journey often becomes bumpy and stressful if the subject chosen coincides neither with their interest nor aptitude.  Well, this happens in the cases where the child is not made a part of the “choosing” procedure of his own future. I would like to share an example which I came across recently. The school asked the children to give their choice of the streams(more appropriate would be to say combination of subjects) for class XI provisional admission. The child was offered the first choice filled. After few days father comes and gives his own reasons to change the subjects and the school accepted the same. After few days same person came and asked for the third choice available with the school and the school agreed to that too.  But the issue is that father is still confused and does not know what is good for his child. In this entire episode the child never came to school and expressed his/her desire and interest. The child seems to be toy in the hands of the father who is an educated person working in a responsible position in reputed institution(I felt relieved that my father was not that way educated).  Due to high aims and aspirations the parents convince their kids to go for “much sought after” streams and subjects, neglecting their capabilities and inclinations. With this starts an endless struggle where the child tries to cope up with the subject and in case he fails he is subjected to coaching centres to remedy the situation. I have often vehemently criticized coaching institutes in my articles. I don’t believe in their very concept. These are the places where kids are sent to get rigorously trained to fulfill the demand and expectations of “high scores”. These institutes lure the parents with their false promises and assurance of securing for their child a prized seat in a premier institution.  High scores, ranks and cracking entrance exams become the pivot around which a child is thus forced to revolve. Two years of her/his life i.e. classes IX and XII are burdened under the pressure of coaching institutes. Their innocence is crushed and they become machines which are expected to produce “excellent” scores and grab one of the limited seats.
These coaching institutions play on the Indian psyche for academic excellence and categorize the students as per their scores based on MCQs; various batches are framed based on these scores neglecting the children’s people skills, kinetic skills, linguistic skills and their social and emotional IQ. Even the parents who are focused on their child’s “better future” forget about the importance of her/his school life. “If students are going to spend two years focusing only on the methodology of cracking the prestigious exams, what about knowledge and intellectual growth they are supposed to imbibe in these crucial years of their development?
Things get worst when students being unable to cope up with the pressure of coaching with regular school are forced to get into dummy schools. This totally deprives the students of the nurturing and learning environment of the school. They miss on many cultural, literary, social and co-curricular activities which are of utmost importance especially in the last two years of school. So is “sacrificing two years in the prime of a child’s life for the sake of a guaranteed future” worth it? The major question is that could these coaching centres even “guarantee” a “secure future”.
Recently, I met a parent who lamented the plight her family has faced due to the trap of the coaching centres. They got their child enrolled in a renowned coaching institute hoping to help him score better. By the end of the year they realized that the child wasn’t able to cope up with the stress and when he wasn’t able to perform up to the mark he went into severe depression. Fortunately the parents were there to understand his situation and did the needful in time otherwise the consequences would have been terrible.  But it is also true that there are many cases where this pressure and depression engulfs the child and the stats show us that it has become a matter of great concern.
So, we know the problem and its ramifications and it’s time to realize that if aptitude, interest and hard work blend in with regular attendance in school, no competitive exam is difficult to crack. Devoid of pressure kids will develop holistically and enjoy learning. Very often, we have coaching class where we just regurgitate the same stuff just many more times. Schools on the other hand focus on clarifying basic concepts, encouraging practice and pay attention to Social Quotient and Emotional Quotient with Intelligence Quotient.
I request all the parents to realize that every child is unique and has her/his own inclinations and capacity. While main stream education is an important part of life, ranks and cut-offs do not matter in the larger scheme of life. Life is not an exam where you need to pass every time to go ahead. Life is all about recognizing one’s potential and honing one’s talent with hard work. These values can only be inculcated by parents and teachers by providing opportunities to explore and experiment in a focused manner. When we show faith on children, appreciate and encourage them and let their creativity flourish they show keenness and do things happily. With natural curiosity they feel connected to their subject and try to understand, explore, analyze and question. This is the best way of acquiring long lasting knowledge and this can only be achieved in the school environment and not in a crammed up coaching centre devoted to short term goals. I would also request the schools which become part of the game played by coaching centers in the name of partner schools popularly known as dummy schools. Schools are considered the temples of learning hence let them remain the same and do not convert into money yielding places. My fellow principals and teachers please realize your strength and responsibility for the better future of the children and in turn the nation and entire human race and do not fall prey to the ill intended people for which education has become business.

I would like to conclude my thoughts with these soulful words from, ‘The Speaking Tree’, “We are born the same, at different locations and times, but we all start our lives the same way. Some achieve success in their professional life; some excel in the personal sphere. There is no right or wrong way to live.  Everyone has their own pace of life — learning and exploring — and they are all correct in their own way.  Life is not a competition.  It should not become a rat race; rather life is an art and whoever excels in it and makes it beautiful in his own terms, is the one who knows how to live. Living a happy life is not a hard task; but there is a secret rule — realize your potential and work hard with passion for your goal.”