Culture Building in Green Schools

by Ananthalakshmi Sitaraman (Durga)

Culture Building in Green Schools

Let me start with a few of my Prakriyan stories.  After all, it is worth exploring whether there is truth to the statement “If you want to learn about a culture of a place, listen to the stories.”

I joined Prakriya as a parent, saw the joyousness with which my child was going to school, experienced how she learnt things effortlessly, saw that the qualities I observed in her as a parent were noticed by her teachers also. There was no preaching, no rigid ‘shoulds and shouldn’ts’, even though there were clearly laid out expectations when it came to skills or presentations. Her creativity, her ability to speak her mind - which I think is beyond what I can handle as a parent - all aroused in me a curiosity to learn what my child was picking up. I joined as a librarian, after a year and a half, I moved to being a teacher.

Thus, began my journey as a teacher, learning alongside my children. Geography was unlike statistics and economics I had learnt in college. And working with a group of ten-year olds was an entirely new and challenging experience.

“There are text books/books in the library that you can refer to,” Rema, my subject-mentor informed me when I enquired about introducing the concepts of “maps and globes,” to a bunch of fifth graders.  She then asked me something that has stayed with me ever since. “Do you know your children?” In a typical adultlike fashion, I remember replying, “Yeah, I know them. Ashwin, Rhea, Advika…” Not waiting for me to list out the names of all the children in my class, she interrupted me and asked, “Do you know them as people? As human beings?”

That was my first introduction to the idea of “humanising education.” As a teacher, I was asked about Lesson Plans and Annual Plans, given feedback on class management and board work, guided on concept introduction and Learning Difficulties, counselled on Nature’s wisdom but along with these I was also asked to understand the children first, to relate, to connect with them. “Experience the child sitting right in front of you; your syllabus and deliverables will happen seamlessly” I was repeatedly told.“And how do I experience the child?” I sought answers. Unfortunately for me, in Prakriya there are no readymade study-guide solutions forsimple questions such as this. “If you want to experience the child, you need to experience yourself first.” Tatvamasi – you are that.

And so,my journey began – one of understanding myself, humanising myself and through that my children, people in their lives and mine too!

My first year as an anchor teacher was tumultuous in a lot of ways; at the same time, at the risk of sounding cliché, that year was the most rewarding and enriching. There was a child who walked into my class and told me straight out, “I don’t want to move to this section. I don’t like you that much.” Another child got into trouble so often, literally every minute of every day in school, that I ceased to ask what-where-when-why, rather was ready to tackle and embrace what emerges. There was another child who  felt left out; and then there was the screamer, there was the spaced-out artist, the talker, the preacher, the quiet one, the achiever, the Jhansi-Ki-Rani, the football player, the slacker, the good-solider…you name it, I had them in my class.

Children called me out when I was unfair. They confronted me when I slacked. They questioned me when I didn’t take charge.

Children called me out when I was unfair. They confronted me when I slacked. They questioned me when I didn’t take charge.My issues with authority and responsibility, my notions of freedom and fairness, my need to be liked, my utter sense of helplessness, my need to cut and run and many, many more came to the fore front, and I became acutely aware of my patterns. I learnt that I can and have the right to change the single meaning I have given to, say for example, to authority or freedom. I also saw for myself how those single meanings I have been carrying all my life, to a large extent, plays out and configures the contexts that I am part of.  “Humanise” was the word I heard during those initial years; “Don’t delete, but add”; “It is not a full stop, but just a comma” - I was confronted with these statements too.

Honestly speaking I didn’t get the meanings of any of these words/phrases in the beginning. Slowly but surely these words started to take shape; I saw the demarcation becoming fuzzy between the good and the bad, I had drawn for myself. I began to see the “greys” between the black and white. Tatvamasi – you are that.Humanise.

Another aspect that stand out for me is the idea of learning from Nature, the principle behind the notions of inner and outer ecology. That I am embedded in a complex, intricately woven, delicately held, interdependent, cyclical Natural world opened my eyes to Her mysteries and through that to the sacredness of all beings.

Rather than unquestioningly accepting that survival of the fittest is Nature’s way, we, as a school, have attempted, successfully, I might say, by taking her collaborative, simultaneity processes into our classroom. Nature is diversity. This, too, we consciously take it to our children, working not only with the differing learning abilities but also investing in the physical, emotional, intellectual, psycho-spiritual needs of the children. Purnamadah Purnamidam - “See the whole.”

In a world that embraces achievement and success of a kind, that celebrates accolades, we are trying to celebrate the child and her innate nature. In a world that proclaims that uniformity is the way, we are trying to live out the diversity of Nature’s way. Where globalism is embraced without any questions, we are encouraging our children and also ourselves to take a pause and own our Indic, pluralistic roots. Where GDP is holding the sway, we are pushing for the wellbeing of our children and adults. Where marks and exam results are defining schooling, we are unapologetically committing to keeping alive, the spirit of the child. Where campuses of the 21st century are advertised, we leave that to our children to spread the word.

Yes, the journey hasn’t been an easy one…but at the end of the day if I look back, I see children (and adults too)  who are as passionate about football as they are about saving a kitten; who are as serious about math as they are about understanding the importance of Devarkadu; who may jump at a chance to watch a play as they are about saving paper or water; who are as fascinated about popular English bands as they are about Bharatanatyam or the tabla;  who are not caught with rights and wrongs, but are willing to look at the greys in between; who hold themselves with pride at the same time dignifying the others;  who like to talk (incessantly, might I say) at the same time who are also willing to listen;  who are confident to lead at the same time willing to work in group and collaborate; who question us constantly about the food policy, dress code, why this and why not that, at the same time trying to appreciate that there are certain non-negotiables in life too.

“If you want to learn about a culture of a place, listen to the stories.”  I rest my case.