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Kids, parents, teachers & politics: It’s vital to understand our young

The writer is a veteran school educator based in Kolkata
Published : Feb 13, 2020, 5:46 am IST
Updated : Feb 13, 2020, 5:46 am IST

No wonder, parents heave a sigh of relief when the long summer vacation finally comes to an end.

We did not allow them to enact any kind of political skit or have any kind of political debate on Republic Day.
 We did not allow them to enact any kind of political skit or have any kind of political debate on Republic Day.

I have often wondered why so many children are manageable in school but are said to drive their parents up the wall and round the bend. While a single teacher can keep a class of 30 or 40 energetic pupils reasonably disciplined, parents claim that they go crazy trying to deal with a single child at home. No wonder, parents heave a sigh of relief when the long summer vacation finally comes to an end.

Helpless parents and their equally helpless children often turn to teachers for advice because not all problems are meant to be resolved through psychological counselling. They need wisdom and patient handling. The other day I received a call from a parent, who happens to be a very senior police officer. He asked me to find out why his six-year-old daughter has such terrible anger issues. “Madam, she gets so angry that she trembles with rage,” he complained. He sounded puzzled, frustrated and helpless. I promised to look into the matter. My investigations revealed that the little girl in question was extremely bright, well-behaved in school and very good at her work. Her teachers had no complaints whatsoever.

Equipped with this information I met the mother and daughter and came to the conclusion that the adults at home didn’t quite understand the child. She was simply lonely and bored at home. Her nanny seemed to be a thorn in her flesh and clearly lacked the wherewithal to handle such a bright little child, who had excellent powers of expression and communication herself. No wonder, I thought to myself, that there is such a burgeoning demand for crèches in our cities where increasingly, both parents in nuclear families go out to work.

Another trend that I have noticed over some years is that of little children being enrolled in all kinds of after-school classes and coaching sessions. These range from music and dance, languages, art and craft and Gita classes to horse riding, swimming, tennis and karate coaching. I used to wonder why such small children were subjected to such a demanding daily schedule. I realise now, that apart from the usual pressure to follow the current vogue, it was also to keep their children stimulated and fruitfully occupied under supervision while their parents were busy. Parents believe that their children would be in a safe environment and would at least be kept out of mischief. “Home” these days was likely to be an apartment, and it was unsafe for a child to go visiting other homes on their own to seek company or distraction. The demand, therefore, for efficient and educated “nannies” and “governesses” is also rising. Agencies study the needs of each couple — or single parent — and find suitable caregivers who command very high salaries that are commensurate with their skills, qualifications and experience.

It is altogether a different story when children seek their teachers’ counsel about how to tackle difficult parents. I have personally come across a wide variety of problems that older children face when dealing with their parents, that is, if they are not separated or divorced. Children confide in their teachers about warring parents, bias in favour of a particular sibling, over-strictness, not permitting them to choose the courses they wish to study, and so on. One wistful child told me that she wished that her mother would sometimes worry about her safety and well-being, as most mothers were wont to do. “My mother doesn’t care about where I am, who I am with or what time I would return home!” My heart went out to her.

Now there is a new phenomenon to contend with. It is about politics today and the current polarisation of Indian society. “I don’t know about your political beliefs, ma’am”, said a former student to me the other day, “but I face problems at home every single day”, she complained. “How can “they” (meaning her parents) support the Citizenship (Amendment) Act?” she exclaimed. I told her that it was important to listen to other viewpoints, weigh arguments and hold beliefs only after knowing all the relevant facts. Listening carefully to the points put forward and the evidence presented would help them to argue better.

Some of my current students tell me that it is not “right” to remain apolitical today and since their school had always encouraged its students to be “thinking beings”, they should be allowed to air their political views without inhibition. Our students must have always held their own opinions about various issues, but this is the first time in my experience that they were coming out in numbers, seeking permission to express their views on a public platform.

We did not allow them to enact any kind of political skit or have any kind of political debate on Republic Day. But we explained why. It was one day in the year when we celebrated our Republic and our Constitution, and this is exactly what we should be doing every January 26. We certainly appreciated their act of renewing their pledge to preserve the Constitution of their beloved country.

Nonetheless, we did not want to appear reluctant to discuss the burning issues of the day. Real education demands the free discussion of any topic that our students want us to address in class. But real education was also helping them to be fully informed about the topic in question. We find that many of our young — and yes, many adults as well — are so emotionally charged, that they do not care to think about any issue in depth or present their points clearly or rationally. Besides, having been “conditioned” to view something in a particular way, they do not bother to listen to different points of view.

It is important for the country’s future that we learn to listen to one another, give space for multiple viewpoints, use civil language, give proper evidence when making a statement and pledge to shun violence. But all our attempts at progress will be in vain if we fail to understand our young.

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