My learning

SONIA KADYAN

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‘Learning’ – a term, the meaning of which I have yet to learn. When I first started to discover the world’s hidden truths, adults stopped me, claiming to offer better techniques to learn than what I possessed as a child, though whatever I did on their orders (with my own effort) was according to them always faulty. It ended up making me an object of laughter, never making them pause and think that their techniques might also be faulty. Throughout my education, the only thing missing was learning. I didn’t know where its limits might start. Maybe we learn to gain praise and appreciation from adults or to show-off to fellow learners. It may include the knowledge of everything, but from an adults’ perspective.

I truly believe that the only place where one learns nothing is the school, and even if one does learn something there, it will be questioned sometime in the future, just like mine was. After schooling, whenever I was at a social gatherings, I simply stood silently, waiting to be commanded because that was what I had learnt in my school, i.e., to shut my mouth, do as I was told, and not use my brain. This learning must be quite a thing, the lack of which can cost a child at school her life. These days, the news of ‘failed students’ attempting suicide has become so common that one hardly pays much attention to it. I don’t think that one can be such a bad learner that one fails to learn even 33 per cent of what is taught in 365 days and may fail again if given one more span of 365 days to learn it again. Surely it makes one doubt the things required to be learnt and definitely the person involved in teaching it. It is not a child’s fault if she frequently fails to learn a concept, totally alien and meaningless to her.

As a student I was always considered a loser, no matter how hard I tried to do the given right thing, in the right way, reducing the possibilities of error. I still remember day one at school when I stood in uniform, carrying a water bottle in hand and a school bag on my shoulder. I was permitted by the school authorities to go and sit in room number 8, class I-B, roll number 37. I was handed over to some adults called ‘teachers’ who appeared to be mentally and physically sound. I had to call them ‘madam’ or ‘sir’ depending on their voice and the kind of clothes they wore, though they had the right to call me the way they pleased. I had to respect them no matter how much they humiliated me.

Going to school, carrying all the knowledge tools in my bag, still remains a mystery to me. I wonder why I had to go to school if all I had to learn was in my school bag itself. Teachers simply read to us from books and took tests; wasn’t this something any child can do once she masters literacy skills? As far as comprehension and implication of a concept are concerned, these were never valued by any teacher. Thus, I was also less bothered about them. Later on, my school bag too was opened by me only when the teacher asked.

For almost one week, I unknowingly sat in a classroom other than the one allotted to me, i.e. I sat in class I-A and not I-B. Perhaps this was the reason why for one week my name was not called out during attendance time. But who cared, when I was simply involved in getting acquainted with ‘my school’? That first week of my first class was the only good time I had in school. Whenever children came out of their classes, they walked in long straight lines with their teacher, as if they were playing ‘train-train’. Whenever any train crossed my class corridor, I would stand, hurriedly looking out for the next station.

 

Everything was funny and strange at school, like eating only when the bell sounded, opening a book to read a piece of given knowledge only when the clock said or the teacher demanded. Some of my classmates would cry hard, wanting to go back home as if they had come to school at the cost of their ongoing top secret inventions. I disliked those long assemblies in the morning. I remember sweating profusely, about to faint on a hot morning, still praying, eyes closed, to someone whom I had never known and whenever I opened my eyes I found the teachers standing by as if I had just finished worshipping them. After one week, my actual class teacher came to me, held my ear and pulled me to I-B, shouting that it was there that I was supposed to sit and learn.

Then began my journey to be an ‘ideal student’. An ideal student is one who listens the most, questions the least, and never shows individuality. So it was with me. I did not speak even when asked to, for who could say it was not a trap to accuse me of having spoken in class. I desperately wagged my tail before teachers. If they asked me to keep sitting motionless at a place in a particular posture for a given time, I would invariably oblige. I would not think about moving even to breathe if not asked to do so. This is exactly how I spent twelve years of my schooling.

 

All I did was to wake up early at the cost of my wonderful dreams and thoughtful imagination, walk into a scary building, sit there, stuck to the place allotted, continuously staring at the teacher in order to convey that I was listening to the nonsense syllabus articulated by her. I would sit there for six hours, six days a week, waiting with all concentration for the last long bell that would convey the end of yet another dull part of the day. I never dared to step out of my class even during recess and free periods.

Many parts of my school I had heard of but never seen and I am sure that there must have been others which I had not even heard of. How could I risk my life simply to know the school building fully, when every time one tried, one faced the highest probability of meeting a heartless devil given charge of keeping children inside their allotted cells? The only thing that belonged to me was my seat. I hated all the occasions that required me to move away from it. Who knows when someone might snatch that seat away from me, accusing me of being a bad learner? Thus, I always preferred being stuck to it even during break time.

Recess used to be the most threatening time of the day when adults went out of sight, to their caves, leaving children free to be on their own. This was the time when students, who pretended to be passive, adult-operated machines became active and alive – leaders, followers, enemies, explorers and social workers. I hated recess as it required me to show off my hidden potential to amaze other children and gain entry into their world. But how could I betray the adults? I chose to follow them and preferred sitting motionless at my place. I was practicing to turn myself into a mindless robot working on their demand.

Throughout the day, the only sound that came out of my mouth was ‘present madam’, compulsory during roll calls when the teacher sat down to mark who was missing. It was so ‘killing’; demanding that I shout at the top of my voice in the middle of so many sounds to make it reach the teacher. I have no doubt that on many days I would have been marked absent though I was present, since my voice was very poor. I had never used it. Attendance time was something when each day I had to struggle to prove my existence, saying ‘Yes, I am still alive, not dead yet!’

In the very first grade I was made to believe in my inability to do anything on my own. There I found out that there is one teacher while there are forty students; the teacher can’t possibly give time to all of them but all forty students must give all their time and everything to that teacher.

 

Once a teacher asked us how we utilized our summer vacation. Working hard. All the children wanted the teacher to hear them. Then the teacher made another rule, i.e., we were to raise our hand for permission whenever we wanted to use our voice organs. I always raised my hand to answer, but perhaps my hand was invisible to the teachers. This hand raising formula remained quite famous in every grade, no different to a criminal raising hands while surrendering before the police. As time went by, I stopped raising my hand. I did not believe in forcing someone to listen to me, unlike many students who would put everything into making the teacher pity them and letting them speak.

Once my Hindi teacher asked us if we could recall all the Hindi consonants in the right order. At once I looked at the floor, hoping that she wouldn’t see me. I was lucky as her eyes fell on a boy. What a brave boy he was; he questioned her if she herself knew all the consonants. This was enough to bring out the devil in her. All she could think of in retaliation was to shout and punishing him for having dared to question her knowledge. In the end she left us speechless by reciting all the Hindi consonants in the exact order. I wonder why it matters if one can utter the alphabets in the correct order or even know them while one is not allowed to speak one’s mind, think what one wants, or say what one feels.

 

Teachers were never in my reach because they always sat far from me, in the front. Once when I was small, a teacher appeared somewhat friendly and open to all the forty students. So I dared to step out of my seat to show her my drawing. I went pushing my classmates out of the way, struggling between the maze created by heavy tables and chairs. Finally, I reached her and waited for my turn in the crowd of the teacher-pleasers surrounding her. But by the time I reached her, she was fed up seeing our creative imaginations. She simply shouted at us to go back.

Still I dared to put my drawing before her, but she simply looked away. This was enough to shatter me, but she had another plan. She asked for a pencil and paper and drew a figure exactly like in my drawing, showed it to all and gained praise. It made me sink into my corner seat, trying hard to make out whether it was her way of praising me. Surely she must have been absolutely ignorant that I was observing her throughout her act of stealing from me.

Once I was selected to participate in an obstacle race on sports day. Almost a week earlier, I had begun practicing hard, running and jumping all evening at home. Finally came the day I was ready to hit the floor when two teachers came up to me. My confidence soared as I thought they had come to cheer me up. They looked at me, whispered something to themselves, and suddenly snatched the number allotted to me to give to some other child, all because I did not appear sufficiently likely to win and they could not afford to lose. I don’t know about the race but I had lost the battle even before reaching the field. Since then I have never been good at crossing obstacles. The fear of losing so terrifies me that I prefer to quit rather than lose.

When I left my school I never even once turned back to stare at it for the last time. Tears welled up in my eyes for finally having managed to escape. The only thing I was sure of since my childhood years was that I would never ever become a teacher. But such is the power of circumstances that I joined the Bachelor of Elementary Education (B.El.Ed.) course where I dealt with nothing but concepts and issues related to schooling. I tried hard to hate this course but failed. It was like an eye-opener; it made me realize that I was not a convict but a victim of my teachers. I discovered that it was not just me but so many other live minds that are similarly conditioned to play the role of a dead person.

 

The course gave me an opportunity to go back to school, but as a teacher this time. Everything in the B.El.Ed. programme had a sort of truthfulness and good intention about it. When I went to school for the first time to practice my teaching skills, I found myself in a room full of children, standing and smiling at each other, waiting for my orders. I felt like a ruler, loving the power I had acquired by just being a teacher. Only then did I realize why every teacher turns into a dictator the very moment she enters a classroom.

 

I got a chance to go to the staff-room where I finally got a true insight into teachers. Most of them were busy boasting of their prowess and success in having turned children into robots. Others talked of nothing but shopping, their duties as housewives and mothers, but rarely as teachers. Some were busy planning the right time to take leave; a few were engaged in discussion on how to complete the prescribed course within the specified time because the principal had asked. Not a single teacher could be heard talking about her students.

Everything in school still appears faulty to me. I know that when a loser attempts to teach, there cannot be many so-called winners. There cannot be much to teach because I myself have not learnt much. So the attempt must be to learn from both sides. I will ‘see to it’ that not a single child comes out being an ideal student. If I ever succeed in becoming a ‘teacher’, I will definitely try to interact with fresh minds waiting to share their explored knowledge. I don’t want to become a knowledge-possessor. Rather someone who enjoys being with fresh minds, exploring the world.

Suppose I know all there is to know about a tree – its scientific name, its location and habitat, and so on – while a student on the other hand recognizes that same tree as being his friend named Hariya with whom he plays, eats its fruits, hangs from its branches and swings on it. I wonder if I will be tempted to disregard his knowledge, placing mine above his as standard knowledge. Or will I fail him because his answer doesn’t fit in the evaluation criteria. I know things will be difficult. Hopefully, I will try and listen to all the forty students, no matter how impossible it appears!

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