Creating a Society that Cares

“We have not inherited the earth from our ancestors. We have borrowed it from our children”

Our Children

“Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.” – Kahlil Gibran

They are like flowers, each special in its own way. They are like mirrors, reflecting our thoughts and actions. They are like birds wanting to fly and explore the world. Children are learners from the minute of their birth. They are curious, intuitive, creative, inventive and a lot of other things. Unfortunately, their wings are soon clipped by the restrictions of our societal norms.

Children need time with themselves and with each other. They need to communicate with each other; they want to share and they want to do/explore on their own. In Maria Montessori’s explanation of the role of work in the growth of self-reliance, she explains that children need time to simulate the world in their minds, and need concrete material to make abstract concepts comprehensible. Children should have the freedom to do constructive work on their own. The process and procedure of handling the material and completing the task inculcates selfdiscipline and responsibility towards the environment. Mahatma Gandhi dreamed of an educational system where children learn by doing different constructive work and derive learning, a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction from doing the work.

Our attitudes and concerns are influenced by our education. In the contemporary educational system, children are driven to learning by studying facts. They are pushed into nail-biting competition to be ‘on top’. It is a fight for ‘survival of the fittest’. There is no time for contemplation and reflection. And they fail to learn to take responsibility for their actions and the consequences thereof.

This kind of education not only estranges the children from Mother Earth, it also makes them insensitive about their connectivity and dependence on Nature. It removes them from the importance of life-values and empathy for other people. It leaves them distraught, helpless and selfcentred. From the first day of school, they experience their first restriction in their freedom of movement in the confinement to the desk and chair. Energy, which is normally consumed by children in running around and laughing happily, is dammed up. The children feel frustrated and express it either through tears or by show of violence. Frustration is a common emotional response to opposition. Related to anger and disappointment, it arises from the perceived resistance to the fulfilment of the individual will. Frustration can result from blocking motivated behaviour. Each individual may react in a different way. He or she may respond with rational problem-solving methods to overcome the barrier. If unsuccessful, he or she can become frustrated and behave irrationally and aggressively.

There is an awareness of how the present educational system affects the personality of the children and through them, the society. The internally assimilated lessons from the present educational system contribute to the callous attitudes of the children towards other human beings, animals and trees. In the present educational system, there is place only for competition. This is an extension of the ‘divide and rule’ policy introduced by the British in India. Competition fosters jealousy, hatred, injustice, greed and carelessness. No wonder the attitude of some of the youth today, especially in the cities where competition is more emphasised, is either suicidal or homicidal.

It is our responsibility as guardians of our children to review, re-examine and re-design the educational system itself and not just the content. We need an educational system that will help our children to become what they were meant to be for a society where co-operation, love and harmony will be fostered through care for the earth and all forms of life. There is only one earth and now is the time to care for it by re-designing our curriculum to inculcate caring.

Objectives of including woodcraft in the school curriculum:

1. Natural learning process

To re m o v e bookishness of knowledge and m a k e t h e educational process at school also a continuum of their own natural learning process and life which means that the primary medium of acquiring knowledge is experience (through the five senses and a sixth sense: that of logic).

2Non-violence

To create an educational process that has nonviolence at its core. In conventional systems there is an extreme imbalance of information and experience which creates dissonance and leads to internal and external violence. This curriculum is being evolved with the idea of nonviolence as both the process and the product.

3. Experiential learning

To create a learning environment which stimulates and facilitates experiential progression of knowledge in the child’s mind.

4. Synthesis of knowledge

Creating an attitude among teachers and other stakeholders of the curriculum process, that the knowledge process is organic and naturally needing the learner to cultivate the ability to connect and synthesise pieces of information, and that this can be greatly enhanced by information, and that this can be greatly enhanced by making something with their own hands; learning is a continuous process and while crafting objects with their hands the children are able to relate to the concepts with an understanding of their connections with everyday life.

5. Autonomy / Self-reliance

Creating a learning environment and process that incorporates autonomy and self-reliance of each unit - be it teacher, child, a class, the school and so on. This manifests in the curriculum p ro c e s s b y necessitating the participation and ownership of both the teacher and the child in the development of the curriculum itself thereby making it dynamic, evolving and responding to the situation at hand and a changing world and society.

6. Indigenous ways of knowing - Integrated / multidisciplinary

To acknowledge, validate and deepen dialogue with indigenous and traditional knowledge systems and ways of knowing. A key manifestation of this in the curriculum is the integrated and multidisciplinary approach to subjects.

7. Self-knowledge

Character building by sensitising the child to h i s / h e r o w n capabilities, strengths and weaknesses in a cooperative environment. Providing scope for children with less interest in academics to relate to the concepts in other ways and thereby inspire them to pay attention to academics.

As the children touch, feel and work with wood of different kinds, polishing, crafting and creating, an understanding of trees deeper than ever before, they will blossom as individuals, empathise with the environment and will help each other rather than compete with each other. They will learn to handle and care for simple tools improving their hand eye coordination, space organization and discipline. They will learn value of hard work, they will feel the contentment of creating something and their confidence and self-reliance will improve far beyond our imagination. The beautiful and useable articles they will create will make them see themselves in the work. Reflection, diligence and pursuit of perfection will become second nature to them. Something will begin to work up on their body and soul and they will grow up to be graceful, honest, creative, hardworking and content.

As Herbert Read says, ‘A child’s art work is its passport to freedom, to the full fruition of all its gifts and talents, to its true and stable happiness in adult life. Art and craft work leads the child out of itself. It may begin as a lonely individual activity, as self-absorbed scribbling of a baby on a piece of paper. But the child scribbles in order to communicate its inner world to a sympathetic spectator.'

Rabindranath Tagore wrote: ‘If educational processes are created to aim for the unity of the whole humankind, the beginnings of this are in the growth of love of the baby for the mother, for the immediate family and ultimately to universal love. But the foundations of this unity are laid in creativity.’

 


Meenakshi Umesh

Born and brought up in Mumbai, Meenakshi has a degree in Architecture from Sir J.J. College of Architecture. She has worked with lowcost, eco-friendly construction technologies at Auroville, near Pondicherry. For several years, she, along with her partner, Umesh, has practiced various alternatives in farming, construction and education in a drought-prone area of Dharmapuri District in Tamil Nadu. In 2000, they started a school based on the ideologies of Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi and E.F. Schumacher using methods demonstrated by Maria Montessori, David Horsburgh, Rudolf Steiner and Janet and Glen Doman. They now run the Puvidham Rural Development Trust, that works on developing effective organic farming techniques and providing a humane and child-centered education environment for children in the Nagarkoodal area of Dharmapuri, Tamil Nadu, India. For more details, visit www.puvidham.org. She may be contacted at puvidham@gmail.com

 

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