The protective myelin sheath of our society is corroded and our nerves are raw and exposed.
If there ever was a partnership of value in today’s world, it is the partnership between the two most important units in a child’s life — the home and school. Between parents or caregivers and the educators of the child. This child, who is the future of the nation, indeed, is our future. If there ever was a partnership in troubled waters, it is this one. This is most unfortunate.
Going by the current atmosphere in the country, especially in Delhi and Gurgaon, these two elements in a child’s life are no longer on the same page. They are at loggerheads with each other, and the biggest sufferer is the child.
The problem lies in all of us and in the way our society is going, in the things it has increasingly come to value and in the things it has forgotten.
The protective myelin sheath of our society is corroded and our nerves are raw and exposed. We no longer have an insulation around us and our children are facing the excruciating pain of exposed nerves.
Before this begins to sound like a class of biology, allow me to explain.
The biggest danger to safety is violence. And we are welcoming it into our homes each day, each hour and each minute. Our lives are full of noise. We are ruled by the idiot box. The idiot box is full of everything that is not calming or soothing or warm and loving. People are screaming at the top of their voices, debates are no longer about points of view or anything gentlemanly. They are about intimidation.
In the course of my work, and because I too have a school, I have the privilege of travelling across the length and breadth of the country and interacting with people both young and old.
In conversations about what children watch on TV, it is shocking to hear that they are watching shows like Game of Thrones, The Mentalist to name two. The youngest of these children I have met is in Class 8, certainly not the age to watch shows full of violence, degradation of women, abuse of all sorts, blood, gore and other ghastly things. It is not surprising that a young child can think of slashing her schoolmate’s throat… look at the visuals before them all the time. These are a few incidents reported; the fear is soon they will be many.
I confess to having watched one of these shows, compelled by my lack of knowledge of what the latest fad was on TV. I needed to know what our young ones are watching and what their entertainment was. I wanted to see what their tastes are becoming. I was utterly shocked at what I saw. And mind you, children are watching unabridged, uncensored versions of programmes that you and I will baulk at. And we are making it possible. We buy them the Internet.
When my nieces and nephews were growing up, the Internet was a poor dial-up connection. And then I had wondered about how to police the amount of time they spent on it. And how would one keep a check on what they browsed? Those days to my amusement one of the boys had told me with an impish grin: “You have to trust me. If I know how to use Internet Explorer, I also know how to delete my browsing history.”
To my amusement, he offered to teach me too. I could afford to be amused, so could his parents. Because our lives back then, were not inundated by hundreds of electronic gizmos, which only surely destroy a child’s mind. And unlike the children of today who have fast-speed Internet on their phones, tabs, laptops and TVs, children back then had far less exposure.
Ask children what they play. Scores of hands will go up proclaiming they are gamers. They play videogames, some even professionally. And I don’t need to tell you what these videogames are like and what sort of language they use. If you have not seen them, you should. Each parent and each teacher should be subjected to that sort of violence on a screen and I have a feeling they will yank these instruments of destruction from the hands of their children. I have made available state of art sport equipment in my school. I was a keen basketball player in my time and I want more and more children to turn to sports. Yet, even in a comparatively small town of Gwalior, the children are obsessed by Play Stations!
But why blame films, novels, videogames or TV? Why blame them? They are but a reflection of our times. As a society, we have become more accepting of violence, bad behaviour and bullying. The media only reflects this.
In bigger cities, ladies and gentlemen, being a mother of a school-going child is a task only a multi-armed woman with many heads can manage. I see young mothers going crazy, organising expensive activities for their children. They have to take them for the mandatory cricket, tennis, piano, zumba, painting, clay modelling and what not classes.
I don’t know if the child feels left out, the mothers definitely do. The competition is huge and the parents vie with each other to give their child the most. On top of this, they have to make the prettiest charts, projects, costumes and tiffins — even if they can’t draw or cook to save their lives. There are WhatsApp groups, which more often than not create far more panic for hapless mothers, than be of help. WhatsApp groups for parents and teachers are no better. Parents communicate in a rude and aggressive manner and teachers take it. They do not have the courage or the confidence to set things right and are perhaps afraid of causing an outrage! The parents are well heeled and the smallest to the biggest thing can be blown out of proportion.
We live in a state of outrage. Nobody steps back to catch a breath. Nobody puts anything in perspective. Nobody tells these young parents to calm down and not spill their stress to their children. Our society is cruel, it won’t and certainly, the school doesn’t.
In this context, getting an education these days is the most “violent” struggle for survival. Look at teachers. Gone are the days when a teacher could sit on the cement parapet under the peepal growing in the school compound and her students would gather around her. They would talk about life, about the world, the last class assignment, perhaps a personal problem or a special joy. Now, no teacher is free. If there is a free hour in her day, it is spent in doing myriad other activities — yes, teachers also have to participate in best-board, best lesson plan register, best dressing sense contests. Her stress is compounded — remember, she too is perhaps a parent, living in the same rushed, raw society, tending to her children, much like the parents who leave their wards in her care.
When I was in Class 7, I recall my principal giving me a warm hug and lots of time when she learnt someone very dear to me was to undergo a serious surgery. She comforted me and made me a lovely memory for life. She could — she had the time and the inclination.
Now, school principals have a terrible time remembering the names of their students. They also have closed offices, the boundaries of which are difficult to breach. Perhaps they can’t help it. Because if they leave their doors open, they will be deluged with requests for admissions, sales calls and other favours.
Thank God for the few who rush out when school is over to stand at the foyer of the school, smiling at and bidding goodbye to as many students as they can. They know it matters.
I am happy that the principal of my school in Gwalior is one such principal. I had requested him to have glass doors installed in his office and in mine, to make the students feel they could approach us.
I walked into a school in Uttar Pradesh one day and noticed it was entirely changed. The promoters had installed glass doors in all the offices, a glass panel in the classroom doors, and the staff had strict instructions not to close the doors. Their reason was very different. “It is dangerous,” my friend the promoter of the school said, “We can’t have brick walls anymore. It is important that the reception outside should be able to see what is happening in the principal’s office. You don’t know how the parents can behave.”
We have to get back the respect. Between the teacher and taught. Between the home and school. Amongst all of us. We have to draw back the myelin sheath and cover the poor exposed nerves of our society by applying the quiet balm of empathy, values, the right values, acceptance and humanity.
We have to change before we can expect our children to be exemplary. Let no child value a life so little that he can take it simply to postpone an exam or get the school to close for a holiday. Let us not become another America.
From the time our children can sit before a TV set, we hand the remote over to them. And the day they can handle a phone, they have phones too. Internet comes in easy. Now they don’t need us.
They don’t need us or our supervision, and we are boring to them. Outsiders have their attention. We need to win back our children from the Internet. It’s going to be frustratingly slow and painfully arduous, but that is one certain solution.
Meanwhile, the school and parents need to be vigilant, too. Supervised children will find fewer opportunities to harm themselves and others.
On February 14, in a heinous killing, 17 school children were gunned down in Florida. Let us pledge to never let these sort of incidents happen in our nation.
The seriousness of the matter cannot be emphasised. The other day a school owner said to me: “True it is our sacrosanct duty to look after the welfare of our students, but now please pray for our safety too.”
This was in the aftermath of the shooting in a school in Haryana where a student shot his principal at point blank range.
“Will the parents take responsibility for anything at all? The pistol was the boy’s father. We can do surprise checks, but we have thousands of children. The parents should at least keep an eye on the activities of their one child? If the children have to survive this education system and if we have to live through it, a lot of soul searching is required.” It is time to begin.
The writer is the chairperson of the AICC grievance cell. The views expressed here are personal.