Father Hilary Pereira was the Principal of St. Germain High School, Bangalore when I was a student there 20 years ago. While in school we were scared of him, he was a strict disciplinarian. He is now an old man who celebrated his 90th birthday recently. A few of my classmates decided to surprise him on his birthday by landing up at the Josephs Community Home that he presently lives in on the outskirts of Bangalore. 7 of them who turned up for the occasion, unfortunately I was not in the country so could not make it. My friends had taken birthday cake, some flowers and a greeting card. One of my friends Harish brought his little son of 4 years along with him and the group decided that the little one will present the flowers and the card.
This little boy after a quick tutoring session on how to present walks up to Fr. Pereira and hands over the flowers and greeting card and wishes him “Happy Budday Father”. Fr. Pereira instantly responds back “Its not Budday, its B.i.r.t.h… D.a.y” and “Thank-You, my child!”. He was absolutely clear of what role he plays in life, he is a teacher and a teacher for life. He chose to ignore the greetings, the feeling, the emotion and the gesture of the child and chose to correct a child who just made a mistake.
My friend Harish’s wife was a little taken aback and she looked at him. Harish who heads a very large pharmaceutical company today instantly replied commented “That is Fr. Pereira, and thanks to this habit of correcting us we are where we are today”
If you look closely at this incident you will realise that Fr. Pereira did not react like how educators think and act these days. The current crop of teachers and educationists would go on about – “he is just a small child or its ok to make mistakes or it’s the thought that matters”. For Fr. Pereira all that mattered was that if a child makes a mistake it needs to be corrected then and there.
I spent a large part of June in MIT Boston doing a very interesting Enterpreneurs Masters Program. The experience was invaluable as all my batchmates were successful entrepreneurs from across the globe. One of my batch mates had an interesting name John Dewey, during an interaction I mentioned to him that he shares a name with a legendary educator ‘John Dewey’ whose work pioneered ‘Progressive Learning’. My John smiled at me and said that The John Dewey was his great grandfather. John runs a company that manufactures military equipment for the US Army, he is very passionate about education. I guess that runs in his blood.
Getting back to the incident of Fr. Pereira I am reminded of what John Dewey had said over a century ago. “It is impossible to prepare the child for any precise set of conditions. To prepare him for the future life means to give him command of himself; it means so to train him that he will have the full and ready use of all his capacities; that his eye and ear and hand may be tools ready to command, that his judgment may be capable of grasping the conditions under which it has to work, and the executive forces be trained to act economically and efficiently” (Dewey, 1897)
Instruction must focus on the child as a whole for you can never be sure as to where society may end or where that student will be needed or will take themselves.
“Education fails because it neglects this fundamental principle of the school as a form of community life. It conceives the school as a place where certain information is to be given, where certain lessons are to be learned, or where certain habits are to be formed” (Dewey, 1897) Dewey felt that as education is a social construct, it is therefore a part of society and should reflect the community.
Wonder when we will wake up to the reality of what to teach children?