Rema Kumar shares her experience of getting her students to reflect on the curriculum given to them by the school system and re-work for themselves more meaningful ways of learning about Mother Earth.
‘What is education for?’ This is a question that educators have constantly grappled with. There would be no disagreement with the fact that the broader intent of education is to foster values, consciousness, a spirit of enquiry and an anchoring in the truth that we are a part of a larger whole. In addition, education ought to equip young adults to proactively respond to what is emerging in the current context. However, this intent doesn’t translate into action beyond tokenism. This is probably because educational institutions have been uncritically accepting of and beholden to the dictates of the economic and political forces. Thus the emphasis is on theories, concepts, abstractions, the right answers and efficiency. It can be said without a shadow of doubt that this narrow focus combined with a celebration of ‘progress’ has led us to where we are today - facing an unprecedented environmental crisis! The question that needs to be asked then is - • Do we have a generation well equipped to handle these tough challenges ?
• More importantly, do they have the willingness to act?
• Do they care?
As an educator these were some of the uncomfortable questions that I needed to confront and also find answers to...
It is said that the story of separation of the self from the natural world is the root cause of the disconnect that our species experiences in the recent times. Thus we are unable to see ecological patterns, appreciate the complexity of the web of life and acknowledge the fact that we are “just ordinary members of the biotic community, with no special privileges”. I was convinced that we needed to re-examine our story of separation and recognise our role and responsibilities as fellow earthlings. “If you want to know about a culture listen to its stories If you want to change a culture change its stories!”
I decided to try out an experiment with my batch of tenth grade students at Prakriya Green Wisdom School. I shared with them the idea of rewriting the geography text book as
if Earth matters! Their readiness and enthusiasm was palpable and I felt reaffirmed and excited about our joint project. We started out with a basic framework to critically examine the subject matter in their text book. They had to review the subject matter from an eco-centric perspective and re-work it in such a manner that fundamental questions of long term gains, well being of all beings and earth as a living entity was represented. They also had to present the content with a systemic thinking understanding. They had to think in terms of relationships, patterns and context.
We also decided that since the theme they chose to work on was something close to their heart they needed to bring in that subjective angle. Since we had anyway decided to walk on a path less trodden we agreed that soulfulness/sacredness would have a place in the manner on which information is represented. The students spent time selecting material, researching,, reviewing, discussing and going through many drafts before they were ready to begin the rewriting exercise. As a teacher it was an enriching experience to see my students actively engaging, critically examining issues, making astute observations, looking at alternate perspectives and pulling it together as a distinctive narrative. The titles of their essays were themselves stirring:
‘Soil has soul ‘-the chapter on Soil rewritten ‘Forest the home of biodiversity’-
the chapter on Natural Vegetation rewritten ‘What are we digging for?’- the chapter on Mining rewritten.
What emerged were compelling essays backed and supported by relevant data, fact files, graphs, case studies ,untold stories. Some emphasised their point of view through striking photographs, cartoon strips, illustrations. There were stories of hope, stories of unsung real heroes. What fascinated me was the emergence of powerful, passionate voices recognising the rights of Earth and her agency. I present here a few excerpts:
“We need to shift our personal attitudes. In place of utilitarian calculus a reverential worldview is required. Then we will destroy less, poison less, kill less.” Anusha Gupta
“Finally a whole community of people might ally themselves with the inherent good will of any place to heal itself and then it will become the paradise it once was.” Muskan Pathak
“Instead of discussing sustainable crops and cropping patterns the focus was on exploiting water resources to the maximum. What about the approaching water crisis? I would like
to bring out the untold reality.” Uma chaudhary
“A country’s development need not be at the cost of its natural resources being exploited, its environment being degraded and work force subjected to inhuman conditions. A question to
ponder and reflect - what do we really mean by development and poverty?” Megha R
“Only while working on the project did I realise that a small percentage of organic matter in the soil works wonders. My respect for soil, as a living, breathing medium has grown. Perhaps I will work in our terrace garden and then know for sure that soil does have soul,” Shaurya Avinash
I must admit I was touched by their guileless idealism. Sometimes their solutions were simplistic and other times there was an appreciation of complexities. I was impressed that they had touched on critical issues like the concept of externalising costs, ecological economics without calling them by those terms specifically.
As an educator I had to take a pause and reflect -
• Is keeping the focus narrowly on the syllabus really an option?
• Shouldn’t we question our assumptions and self imposed constraints and expand our focus area.
• Should we as educators take a cue from A Student’s Prayer -
“Show me so that I can stand on your shoulders
Reveal yourself so that I can be something different Don’t impose on me what you know I want to explore the unknown And be the source of my own discoveries Let the known be my liberation not my slavery.”