July 2013 – Once a teacher, always a teacher!

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?

If I don’t learn the way you teach me, teach me the way I learn… David Kolb

In the last 30 or 40 years, a number of educators have proposed that teaching would be more effective when schools and faculty members take account of differences in students’ learning styles. David Kolb an American educationist focused on experiential learning by which he developed the Learning Styles Model (LSM) that enhances learning.

Experiential learning is a term used to describe the sort of learning undertaken by students who are given a chance to acquire and apply knowledge, skills and feelings in an immediate and relevant setting. Experiential learning thus involves a, ‘direct encounter with the phenomena being studied rather than merely thinking about the encounter, or only considering the possibility of doing something about it.’

Experiential Learning…

David A. Kolb created his famous model out of four elements: concrete experience, observation and reflection, the formation of abstract concepts and testing in new situations. He represented these in the famous experiential learning circle that involves (1) concrete experience followed by (2) observation and experience followed by (3) forming abstract concepts followed by (4) testing in new situations. It is a model that appears time and again. Kolb (1975) argues that the learning cycle can begin at any one of the four points – and that it should really be approached as a continuous spiral from the educators and faculty point of focus.

According to Kolb, knowing an individual’s (student) learning styles enables learning to be oriented according to the preferred method. Having developed the model over many years prior, David Kolb published his learning styles model in 1984. The model gave rise to related terms such as Kolb’s experiential learning theory (ELT), and Kolb’s learning styles inventory (LSI). Most schools today understand the importance of using various teaching approaches / ways of learning to enhance education but may be unaware of the proponent behind the same and its rationale.

According to Kolb (1984), “learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping experience and transforming it.” He proposes that experiential learning has six main characteristic:

  • Learning is best conceived as a process, not in terms of outcomes
  • Learning is a continuous process grounded in experience
  • Learning requires the resolution of conflicts between dialectically opposed modes of adaptation to the world (learning is by its very nature full of tension)
  • Learning is a holistic process of adaptation to the world
  • Learning involves transactions between the person and the environment
  • Learning is the process of creating knowledge that is the result of the transaction between social knowledge and personal knowledge

Kolb’s Learning Styles

The David Kolb learning styles model is based on the Experiential Learning Theory (ELT). According to Kolb’s model, the ideal learning process engages all four of the following modes in response to the situational demands faced by children and adults. In order for learning to be effective, all four of these approaches must be incorporated. As students may attempt to use all four approaches, however, they tend to develop strengths in one experience-grasping approach and one experience-transforming approach.

Kolb’s learning model is based on two continuums that form a quadrant:

  • Processing Continuum: Here the students approach to a task, such as preferring to learn by doing or watching.
  • Perception Continuum: This is the students’ emotional response, such as preferring to learn by thinking or feeling.

According to Kolb, the learning cycle involves four processes that must be present for learning to occur. The resulting learning styles are combinations of the individual’s preferred approaches. These learning styles are as follows:

  • Diverging (Concrete experience) – Emphasizes the innovative and imaginative approach to doing things. Concrete situations are viewed from many perspectives and the child adapts by observation rather than by action. It is feeling-oriented. Cooperative group activities and brainstorming are usually preferred.
  • Assimilating (Reflective observation) – Pulls a number of different observations and thoughts into an integrated whole. The ability to reason inductively results in creation of models. Students like to design projects and experiments.
  • Converging (Abstract conceptualization) – Emphasizes the practical application of ideas and solving problems. Involves decision-making, problem-solving, and the practicable application of ideas.
  • Accommodating (Active experimentation) – Uses trial and error rather than thought and reflection. Students with an accommodating preferred style are good at adapting to changing circumstances; trial-and-error manner, such as discovery learning.

Depending upon the situation or environment, your students as learners may enter the learning cycle at any point and will best learn the new task if they practice all four modes.

Listed below are a few examples:

Learning to ride a bicycle:

    • Reflective observation – Thinking about riding and watching another person ride a bike
    • Abstract conceptualization – Understanding the theory and having a clear grasp of the biking concept
    • Concrete experience – Receiving practical tips and techniques from a biking expert
    • Active experimentation – Leaping on the bike and have a go at it

Learning algebra:

    • Abstract conceptualization – Listening to explanations on what it is
    • Concrete experience – Going step-by-step through an equation
    • Active experimentation – Practicing
    • Reflective observation – Recording what the teacher has taught, gather one’s  thoughts about algebraic equations in the notebook

How the Learning Styles Theory Impacts Education?

Kolb suggests that teachers should assess the learning styles of their students and adapt their classroom methods to best fit each student’s learning style, which is called the ‘meshing hypothesis.’

Thinking about learning styles can lead a teacher to think about different ways of teaching, and that is good. An effective teacher needs to vary techniques and to have an armamentarium of teaching methods and learning activities that can be drawn upon from moment to moment or from week to week to facilitate maximum learning for as many students as possible.

Methods of teaching, ways of representing information, and personality characteristics of teachers all affect learning and affect different learners differently. Learning styles impacts education in the following ways suggests Kolb…

CurriculumEducators/faculty members must place emphasis on intuition, feeling, sensing, and imagination, in addition to the traditional skills of analysis, reason, and sequential problem solving.

InstructionTeachers should design their instruction methods to connect with all four learning styles, using various combinations of experience, reflection, conceptualization, and experimentation. Instructors can introduce a wide variety of experiential elements into the classroom, such as sound, music, visuals, movement, experience, and even talking.

AssessmentTeachers should employ a variety of assessment techniques, focusing on the development of “whole brain” capacity and each of the different learning styles.

What may be worth noting is that the role of the educator/teacher is diverse and has several orientations. One important aspect is that of facilitator of student learning attempting to provide circumstances that will enable students to engage with their learning styles and construct for themselves their understandings and skills of the knowledge imparted. This role will interact with those of educator as learner himself/herself, a colleague and a community partner.

Sri Aurobindo’s Road to Integral Education

“Every child is a spark of the divine meant to progress, evolve and develop through experiences. This development on the line of the child’s own choice needs to be nourished and not forced to be molded in accordance with the parent’s ambitions or pre ordained expectations of society. This is quite different from the present educational industrial mindset, which churns the raw material into uniform mass production.” Dr (Mrs.) Chhalamayi Reddy, Principal of the Sri Aurobindo International School (SAIS), Hyderabad, student for 15 years at Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, Ashram, Pondicherry and an ardent admirer of Sri Aurobindo writes about the legend and his philosophy of education.

Education as enunciated by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother is very different from what is normally understood and practiced. It requires us to unlearn our habitual ways of viewing education and other associated responses. The key is a change in the mindset with which we view education; such a paradigm shift of the right perception of what truly constitutes a child, is expected of educators, teachers and parents.

In Mother’s and Aurobindo’s view the aim of true education should be to give the students a chance to distinguish between the ordinary life and the life of truth – to see things in a different unconventional way. Unlike what is commonly expected, to crave for money and worldly recognition or to be engrossed in the pursuit of career building cannot be the sole aim of education.

“To learn for the sake of knowledge, to educate oneself in order to grow in consciousness, to discipline oneself in order to become master of oneself, to overcome one’s weaknesses, incapacities and ignorance, to prepare oneself to advance in life towards a goal that is nobler, more generous and more true.”

This is what is expected of students of Integral Education; an all round progress and a constant striving for self exceeding; one of the most significant contributions by Sri Aurobindo to education and understanding the student holistically.

“Do not aim at success, our aim is perfection…”

What did Aurobindo connote by all round development?

The student is made of five distinct parts (body, emotions, mind, soul and spiritual being) all of which must be developed through education.

The aim of the body is to express beauty and harmony and needs to be trained to be strong, healthy and supple. Next, the need to consciously help our students deal effectively with their emotions. We also want our children to develop a sense of esthetic refinement.  The mind being the main focus of modern education needs to develop both its parts – the left and the right brain through the training of its various respective faculties of observation and analysis and the other of comprehension and creativity. The most important and central part consists of the fourth dimension which is that of the truth of our being namely our psychic being (the evolving soul) within which grows across lives through every kind of experience. Its essential nature is to aspire for truth, goodness and beauty. The last dimension is that of the spiritual self (beyond the mind) which we will not concern ourselves with for now.

Such is the broad framework of what needs to be addressed in the development of the child, the teacher and even in ourselves through a life-long education.


In several ways Aurobindo’s educational vision is meant to open the way of the future to children who belong to the future. (What he stated about education was a century ago.)

Does this mean that Integral education is not probable to be implemented in schools today?

For that matter it has absolute relevance because the need has been intensely felt by many that the evoking of the real self within is the most rewarding object of education and for the student. Therefore, schools today must necessarily reinforce the spiritual dimension (not religious) of education long neglected.

Sri Aurobindo’s three principles of teaching:

The first principle states “…nothing can be taught.” The teacher is not an instructor or taskmaster; he/she is a helper and a guide. His/her role is to suggest and not to impose. The teacher does not actually train the pupil’s mind; he/she only shows the student how to perfect his/her instruments of knowledge for himself. He/she does not call forth the knowledge that is within; the teacher only shows where it lies and how it can be habituated to rise to the surface. The truth that this principle conveys has been advocated in India by all the great educational thinkers as it in alignment to the ancient Indian belief that all knowledge lies within and needs only to be unfolded.

The need is to create interest in the child to learn, which leads us to the second principle “…the mind has to be consulted in its own growth. The idea of hammering the child into the shape desired by the parent or teacher is a barbarous and ignorant superstition. There can be no greater error than for the parent to arrange beforehand that his son/daughter shall develop particular qualities, capacities, ideas, virtues or be prepared for a prearranged career.” This is a principle of great value and relevance to all teachers, parents and educators to liberate the child from their personal and selfish expectations.

The third principle takes into consideration the nativity involved in the child’s learning –therefore the need “to work from the near to the far from that which is to what shall be.”

These three principles serve as the foundation of Integral Education and show us how to work towards its right implementation. They can be practiced in any school.

Curriculum must be designed keeping in view the interest of the students as per their age, learning styles and varied interests. The child needs to be encouraged to pursue his own line of interest in the future course of his life.

Although still at the infant stage, we at Sri Aurobindo International School (1965) entered the domain of practicability and made it possible to bring about some changes in the educational curriculum and re-orient it towards integral education. We have started in earnest to implement the same in phases from 1993.

The inspiration for SAIS and that for other schools is to draw from a system of Integral Education linked with Sri Aurobindo’s concept of Integral yoga.  Its fundamental educational concept is ‘that every child is an evolving soul’, and that the responsibility of the teacher and the parent is to enable it to grow to its true and fullest potential.

As heads of schools our goal is high and the scope is endless. The only possible thing to do is to take the first step in this challenging and meaningful journey of realizing true education, that of Integral Education.


To Search, To Think – Leo Tolstoy

All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love.
Leo Tolstoy


“On a cold winter morning the bell would ring. Children would run out into the village street. There was no lagging on the way, no urge to play the truant. Each child was eager to get there first. The pupils carried nothing in their hands, no homework books or exercises. They had not been obliged to remember any lesson. They brought only themselves, their receptive natures, and the certainty that it would be as jolly in school that day as it had been the day before.”

A Russian writer widely regarded as one of the greatest novelists, his masterpieces War and Peace and Anna Karenina represent in their scope, breadth and vivid depiction of 19th-century Russian life and attitudes, the peak of realist fiction. His work has had profound impact on pivotal figures like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Known best for his writing, he has also made significant contributions to educational practices through his research and writings about teaching and on how children learn, making him an educational reformer.

Leo Tolstoy is not as well known for his contributions to education as he is for his novels. His fascination with human behaviour also revealed itself in a desire to understand how to best teach peasant children. His first attempt to found a school for peasants at his home estate of Yasnaya Polyana in 1859 was successful, but also revealed to him how much more he wanted to know about teaching. About six months after starting the school, Tolstoy left on a journey throughout Europe in order to learn more and wished to remedy by substituting public education based on entirely original pedagogical methods.

Tolstoy’s Educational Research

Tolstoy took a multifaceted approach to studying pedagogy. One approach was through his travels and observations. During the years of 1860 and 1861, he traveled throughout Europe, visited schools, observed classes, and spoke with many educators and philosophers of his time, including Dickens, Proudhon, Lelewel, and Herzen. He recorded his observations and thoughts in his journal.
Another approach was through reading. Tolstoy read extensively and would include his thoughts and opinions about the texts in his journal writings.

A third approach was direct research. The mid- to late-1800s brought many new ideas to psychological research, and these fascinated Tolstoy. Tolstoy’s primary research focus was the student as a forming being. He would analyze the psychological and sociological aspects of a student in response to different teaching methods. Tolstoy’s research provided insights into how early learners think, primarily how cognitive thinking at early stages is pictorial, and teaching methods that take a holistic and humanistic approach to education.

Tolstoy’s Educational Writings

Leo Tolstoy wrote his observations and understandings about education in his journals, but his articles about education are where his early contributions were made. In February of 1862, he published the first edition of his literary magazine, Yasnaya Polyana, which included 12 extensive articles that he wrote about his research and understandings of education plus contributions from teachers and students of his school.

In his article “On National Education” Tolstoy defined education as “a human activity based on desire for equality and a constant tendency or urge to advance in knowledge.” Education, he asserted, was history and therefore had no final aim. Its only method was experience; its only criterion, freedom.

Though Tolstoy was frequently was attacked for his views, Tolstoy’s views about education eventually became the foundation for Russian public education and his research the basis for many educational reform movements throughout the world in the twentieth century.

Tolstoy’s Educational Practices

Tolstoy attempted to realize in practice even the more extreme aspects of his educational philosophy. Since he believed that the functioning of a school must be adapted to the conditions of the pupils, he conceded that his own village school might well be the worst possible model for that elsewhere. Attendance was non-compulsory and free to all. Classes ordinarily ran from eight o’clock to noon and then from three o’clock to six, but, as Tolstoy proudly wrote a friend, the students often continued an hour or more beyond closing time, “because it is impossible to send the children away – they beg for more.”

In his school, in the morning, elementary and advanced reading were taught, composition, grammar, history, Russian history, drawing, music, mathematics, natural sciences, and religion were taught; in the afternoon there were experiments in physical sciences and lessons in singing, and reading. No consistent order was followed; however, lessons were lengthened or omitted according to the degree of interest manifested by the students. On Sundays the teachers met to talk over the work and lay out plans for the following week. But there was no obligation to adhere to any plan, and each teacher was placed entirely upon his/her own.

Originality was the guiding spirit. Freedom ruled, but never to the extent of disorder or anarchy. When Tolstoy purposely left the room in the middle of a lesson to test the behaviour of his students, they did not break into an uproar as he had observed was the case in similar circumstances in classrooms he visited abroad. When he left, the students were enjoying complete freedom, and hence they behaved as though he were still in the room. They corrected or praised each other’s work, and some-times they grew entirely quiet. Such results, he explained, were natural in a school where the pupils were not obliged to attend, to remain, or to pay attention.

Tolstoy insisted that only in the absence of force and compulsion could natural relations be maintained between teacher and pupils. The teacher defined the limits of freedom in the classroom by his knowledge and capacity to manage. And the pupils, Tolstoy wrote, should be treated as reasoning and reasonable beings; only then would they find out that order was essential and that self-government was necessary to preserve it. If pupils were really interested in what was being taught, he declared, disorder would rarely occur, and when it did, the interested students would compel the disorderly ones to pay attention, quite uncommon in our schools today. Are we to blame?


The teacher according to Tolstoy

The successful functioning of a school demanded unusual ability on the part of the teacher. Tolstoy admitted this, and justly claimed for himself a certain pedagogic tact. Always in his mind was the pupil’s convenience in learning and not the teacher’s in teaching. He argued that there was no best method in teaching a subject; the best method was that which the teacher happened to know best. That method was good which when introduced did not necessitate an increase of discipline, and that which required greater severity was bad. The method should develop out of the demand of a given problem in teaching, and it should please the pupils instead of the teacher. In short, teaching, according to Tolstoy, could not be described as a method; it was a talent, an art. Finality and perfection were never achieved in it; development and perfecting continued endlessly.

Analysis of the instruction used

In this free atmosphere of student-dominated learning, certain traditional subjects were resisted in a manner that led Tolstoy to doubt their ultimate usefulness and to question the desirability of teaching them to youngsters. Grammar was such a subject. Although his emphasis in instruction favoured analysis, the kind involved in grammar put the students to sleep. To write correctly and to correct mistakes made by others gave his pupils pleasure, but this was only true when the process was unrelated to grammar. After much experimentation with teaching the subject, he concluded in an article in Yasnaya Polyana that “grammar comes of itself as a mental and not unprofitable gymnastic exercise, and language – to write with skill and to read and understand – also comes of itself.”

In the pages of his educational magazine, Tolstoy provides vivid accounts, filled with all the charm of his realistic art, of daily life at the school. On a cold winter morning the bell would ring. Children would run out into the village street. There was no lagging on the way, no urge to play the truant. Each child was eager to get there first. The pupils carried nothing in their hands, no homework books or exercises. They had not been obliged to remember any lesson. They brought only themselves, their receptive natures, and the certainty that it would be as jolly in school that day as it had been the day before.

At the end of a lesson Tolstoy would announce that it was time to eat and play, and, challenging them to race him out-doors, he would leap downstairs, three or four steps at a time, followed by a pack of screaming laughing children. Then he would face them in the snow and they would clamber over his back, desperately striving to pull him down. He was more like an older brother to them and they responded to his efforts with devotion and tireless interest.

The gift of education

Tolstoy’s writings also envisage him meditating on the age-old question of the moral and practical utility of educating the masses. The cultured, he wrote, would remonstrate: Why give these poor peasant children the knowledge that will make them dissatisfied with their class and their lot in life? But such a peasant boy, concluded Tolstoy, addressing the upper class, “needs what your life often generations un-oppressed by labor has brought to you. You had the leisure to search, to think, to suffer then give him that for which you suffered; this is what he needs.

In one respect it may be said that Tolstoy’s absorbing educational experiment fulfilled the purpose of his school at Yasnaya Polyana, contributing much towards the development of his school at the same time reaching out to the peasant children. But, at the same time is there something for us to learn from his educational experiments and practices? Does reading Tolstoy’s highly liberal approach to teaching and education somewhere helps us understand why our students in class today display disinterest, don’t listen to their teachers or respect them? Is there something we as teachers are forgetting to do or are overdoing? These are some questions for us to contemplate on.

Recognizing Adolescent Storm and Stress – Granville Stanley Hall

The “father of adolescence,” Granville Stanley Hall is best known for his prodigious scholarship that shaped adolescent themes in psychology, education, and popular culture. Granville Stanley Hall was born in a small farming village in Massachusetts, and his upbringing was modest and conservative. He has produced over 400 books and articles and had become the first president of Clark University, Massachusetts, but his greatest achievement has been his research work on child centered research, education, and adolescence to a society in transition. He was instrumental in the development of educational psychology, and attempted to determine the effect adolescence has on education.

“The Contents of Children’s Minds,” an 1883 publication of Hall helped him establish himself as the leader of the “child-study” movement, which aimed to utilize scientific findings on what children know and when they learn it as a way of understanding the history of and the means of progress in human life. Searching for a source of personal and social rebirth, Hall turned to the theory of evolution for a biologically based ideal of human development, the optimum condition of which was health. His pure and vigorous adolescent countered the fragmented, deadening, and reutilized qualities of urban industrial life. Hall theorized adolescence as the beginning of a new life and welded this vision to a scientific claim that this new life could contribute to the evolution of the race, if properly administered.

Hall’s educational prescriptions for adolescents emphasized the following areas:

  • An education that drew upon and utilized the expression of emotions through emphases on loyalty, patriotism, and service
  • A curriculum sequence informed by recapitulation theory or cultural epochs (i.e., study of the stages believed to have been key developmental points of the race)
  • An administrative gaze schooled to watch youthful bodies
  • Hall believed that curricula should be attuned to sequentially emerging children’s needs that reflect the evolutional history of humankind.

Hall coined the phrase “storm and stress” with reference to adolescence and applied the phrase as he saw turmoil during adolescence as universal and inevitable.

It is important at this point to address directly the question of what is included under the concept of adolescent storm and stress. Taking historical and theoretical views in combination with contemporary research, the core of the storm and-stress view seems to be the idea that adolescence is a period of life that is difficult (Buchanan et al., 1990)—more difficult in some ways than other periods of life and difficult for adolescents as well as for the people around them. This idea, that adolescence is difficult, includes three key elements, let us delve into them:

Conflict with parents and other authority figures:

Hall (1904) viewed adolescence as a time when the wisdom and advice of parents and teachers is overtopped, and in ruder natures may be met by blank contradiction. He viewed this as due not only to human evolutionary history but also to the incompatibility between adolescents’ need for independence and the fact that parents, teachers and other authority figures still think of adolescents as mere children, and tighten the rein where they should loosen it”.

One naturalistic study of early adolescents’ conflicts with parents and siblings reported a rate of 2 conflicts every three days, or 20 per month (Montemayor & Hanson, 1985).

This conflict makes adolescence difficult not just for adolescents but for their parents and this in-turn reflects adolescents behaviour at school.

However, it should be added that there are substantial individual differences, and there are many authority figures and adolescents between whom there is little conflict, even if overall rates of conflict between authority figures and children rise in adolescence. Conflict between parents, teachers and adolescents is more likely when the adolescent is experiencing depressed mood (Cole & McPherson, 1993), when the adolescent is experiencing other problems such as substance abuse (Petersen, 1988),and when the adolescent is an early-maturing girl or boy (Buchanan et al., 1992).

According to a recent survey conducted by EduMedia on ‘Understanding adolescents concerns and relationships’, what stands apart is even amidst relatively high conflicts is that parents, teachers, other authority figures and adolescents tend to report that overall their relationships are good, that they share a wide range of core values, and that they retain a considerable amount of mutual affection and respect. The conflicts tend to be over apparently everyday issues such as dressing, hanging out with friends, home-work, curfews, and the like. Even if they disagree on these issues, they tend to agree on more serious issues such as the importance of education and choosing the right career etc.

Understanding this conflict as a major reason for stress among adolescents can help teachers and the school to create an atmosphere which is non-threatening for the adolescent to share his/her concerns. This in-turn has a positive effect on the academic and overall development of the role of a student played by the same adolescent.

Mood disruptions:

Adolescents tend to be more volatile emotionally than either children or adults. They experience more extremes of mood and more swings of mood from one extreme to the other. They also experience more frequent episodes of depressed mood. Hall’s experience while working with teenagers report them to feel “self-conscious” and “embarrassed” more often than not as compared with other age groups. They also were more likely to feel awkward, lonely, nervous, and ignored.

Hall believed and saw this increase in mood disruptions as due to cognitive and environmental factors as well as pubertal changes. Adolescents’ newly developed capacities for abstract reasoning “allow them to see beneath the surface of situations and envision hidden and more long lasting

threats to their well-being”. Adolescents vary in the degree to which they experience mood disruptions.

Hall also pointed out the variety of factors that have been found to make mood disruptions in adolescence more likely, including low popularity with peers, poor school performance, and family problems such as marital discord and parental divorce (Petersen et al., 1993). The more negative life events adolescents experience, the more likely they are to experience mood disruptions (Brooks-Gunn &Warren, 1989). Although these individual differences should be kept in mind, overall the results of research indicate support for the storm-and-stress view that adolescence is more likely than other age periods to be a time of emotional difficulty. Can we as educators do something to alleviate adolescents’ emotional difficulty? It is indeed an imperative question that needs to be addressed.

Risk behaviour:

Adolescents have higher rates of reckless, norm-breaking, and antisocial behavior than either children or adults. Adolescents are more likely to cause disruptions of the social order and to engage in behavior that carries the potential for harm to themselves and/or the people around them.Adolescence has long been associated with heightened rates of antisocial, norm-breaking, and criminal behavior, particularly for boys.

Unlike conflict with parents or mood disruptions, rates of risk behavior peak in late adolescence/ emerging adulthood rather than early or middle adolescence (Hall, 1999). Rates of crime rise in the teens until peaking at age 18, then drop steeply (Gottfredson & Hirschi,1990). Rates of most types of substance use peak at about age 20 (Johnston, O’Malley, & Bachman, 1994).The variety of respects in which adolescents engage in risk behavior at greater rates than children or adults lends further validity to the perception of adolescence as a difficult time, a time of storm and stress. Although adolescents generally experience their participation in risk behavior as pleasurable (Arnett, 1992; Lyng, 1993), suffering the consequences of such behavior is likely to be experienced as difficult. Furthermore, it is understandable that parents and the school may find it difficult to watch their children and students pass through the ages when such behavior is most likely to occur.

Taking into account all the turmoil that our adolescents face should motivate us to become sensitive to their concerns and their needs. Expecting adolescence to be difficult could have positive effects. Anticipating adolescent storm and stress may inspire parents and teachers to think ahead about how to approach potential problems of adolescence if they arise. Furthermore, parents, teachers, adolescents, and others who expect adolescence to be difficult may be pleasantly surprised when a particular adolescent shows few or no difficulties, as will be the case for many adolescents because there are considerable individual differences in the storm and stress they experience.

Are we there for our adolescents when they most need us? The paradox of adolescence is that it can be at once a time of storm and stress and a time of exuberant growth.

*Stanley Hall’s major books were Adolescence (1904) and Aspects of Child Life and Education (1921). In 1904, G. Stanley Hall published his two-volume magnum opus on adolescence. A sprawling work of over 1,300 pages, its title was similarly capacious, the fruit of 10 years of work, it became Hall’s first (and only) major work in adolescent psychology.

Resuming Tagore’s Forgotten Vision of an Educated India

The practicality of his educational philosophy…

Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature, a writer and philosopher who discoursed with Gandhi, Einstein, and other greats of his day, an ardent poet, artist, a religious leader and the author of India’s national anthem! We all know who this reference is to…

Many Indians recognize Rabindranath Tagore for all of the above. Despite his fame in the arenas mentioned above, Tagore’s progressive educational philosophy is fundamentally an ancient history today! Tagore’s experimental models pioneered in his schools, Santiniketan and Sri Niketan (West Bengal, 1901), remain sheer experiments. His ideals have not found their way into India’s schools – as rote-memorization seems to still be the predominant learning style in many schools.

Tagore’s views of education are not available in any single volume. It is appreciable in his various expressions. It may be gleaned from his addresses and may be read in his essays. It may also be obtained from his conversational poetry and art. Tagore’s ideas on education were derived mainly from his own experience. Tagore’s educational ideals have been shared by other educationists and many of its innovations had become a part of general educational practices, but somewhere have lost their purpose and direction. His special contribution lay in the emphasis on harmony, balance and total development of personality.

The following poem (every stanza), which outlines Tagore’s vision for an innovative approach to education, is today mindlessly recited in thousands of schools across the country – in ironic contrast to the vision it advocates.

Yet Tagore’s vision for education is one that modern India cannot afford to forget. Let us delve into the following closely to savour Tagore’s vision on education.

Mind Without Fear

“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high,

Where the world is not broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where the words came out from the depths of truth,
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habits,
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever widening thought and action – Into that heaven of freedom,
My father, let my country awake.”

“Where the Mind Is Without Fear”

An environment where students have the confidence to express their thoughts freely and believe in their own learning ability fosters learning in totality. Fear of making mistakes prevents an individual from being free to venture a new thought, to experiment, to ask questions, to be creative, and to innovate. Tagore opposed to any form of corporal punishment as means of discipline. In his school, he cultivated internal discipline based on intrinsic motivations like joy and pursuit of creative tasks.

However, some teachers even today believe that fear is a necessary condition for learning. Students’ mistakes are mercilessly and sometimes viciously punished, rather than being seen as a necessary part of the learning process.
The creative escalation of a child thus becomes stunted by an educational environment where he / she cannot learn without fear of a beating, or failure.

“And The Heart Is Held High”

Central to Tagore’s educational vision was the nurturing of students’ souls. For Tagore, the purpose of education was not just employment – but more importantly, personal fulfillment and self-improvement.

At Tagore’s school, Santiniketan, education was “infused with passion and delight because of the way in which education was combined with dance and song.” This joy and passion carried over to the rest of child’s studies, enabling him / her to perform well in examinations. Tagore believed in starting the learning process with those things close to a child’s heart, rather than beginning with a textbook. Through frequent excursions in nature, games, songs, drama, readings, celebrations, and spiritual teachings, he sought to develop the souls of his children.

Amartya, a former student, writes that at Santiniketan, the emphasis was on “self-motivation rather than on discipline, and on fostering intellectual curiosity rather than competitive excellence.” Lest one assume that Tagore’s focus on the arts disabled intellectual growth, this student grew up to become Harvard Economist and Nobel Memorial Prize winner Amartya Sen. Reflecting on his education, Sen marvels, “Tagore was concerned not only that there be wider opportunities for education across the country…but also that the schools themselves be more lively and enjoyable…”

“Where The World Is Not Broken Up Into Fragments By Narrow Domestic Walls”

A key concept in Tagore’s representation is that of promoting a ‘narrative imagination’ – the nurturing of creativity, empathy, and diversity. For Tagore, one of the central skills needed for a democratic society is the ability to imagine what it might be like to be in the shoes of a person different from oneself, to see things from multiple perspectives, an integral Life Skill advocated by the WHO years later.

The inability to empathize with others’ viewpoints is a key cause of apathy, oppression, racism and violence in today’s world. In his 1917 book, Personality, Tagore writes that “We may become powerful by knowledge, but we attain fullness by empathy…”

The narrative imagination thus needs to be consciously cultivated in school curriculums. When we listen to another person’s story it touches our emotional and imaginative core, leading us to dwell in their perspective and experience their common humanity. A new conviction of the essential humanity of the “Other” changes “us” and “them” into “we”, and motivates us to act for the common good.

“Where Tireless Striving Stretches Its Arms Towards Perfection”

Tagore’s model prioritized education of the rural majority. He believed that a country’s education system must be intimately connected with the life of its people. Thus any education offered in India, whether at school or university level, must be connected with patterns of rural living and aimed at rejuvenating rural life. The major thrust of his program at Sri Niketan was to apply knowledge for the betterment of all aspects of rural life – including agriculture, education, health, and social issues. Moreover, Tagore placed strong emphasis on conducting early education in the child’s mother tongue, to give an equal opportunity to children from diverse backgrounds to learn well.

“Where The Clear Stream Of Reason Has Not Lost Its Way Into The Dreary Desert Sand Of Dead Habits”

Tagore emphasized on critical thinking. To passively accept what is dictated by textbooks without raising questions or disagreements hinders learning.

A system that fails to teach students to understand, question, critically reflect and act upon what they learn, produces adults who fail to understand, question, critically reflect and act upon their society. It creates a nation whose citizens are taught to submit rather than to question; to adapt to the world as it is, rather than actively trying to change it; to accept rather than be assertive.

In contrast, Tagore taught students to critically examine all beliefs, traditions, and statements, and to accept only those that stood the test of reason, rather than blindly accepting them on the basis of authority.

“Into That Heaven Of Freedom”

Promoting the freedom of the child is at the heart of Tagore’s philosophy. Believing that the limitless development of human potential is possible only in an environment free from any kind of burden, Tagore writes in his book, Personality, “I established my institution in a beautiful spot away from the town where the children had the greatest freedom possible under the shade of ancient trees.”

Tagore placed the child at the centre of the learning process. Likewise, many progressive learning theories today seek to draw from the child’s existing knowledge to create an engaging, relevant, and joyous learning process. Students should be given the freedom to explore, inquire, experiment, and discover things for themselves. Tagore wrote, “Not hammer strokes, but dance of the water, sings the pebbles into perfection.” Tagore did not believe in “hammering” information into children’s minds, imposing a single belief system or ideology on them, and forcing them into pre-determined moulds. Respecting the dignity of the child implies respecting the child’s curiosity, their freedom to question, to explore, to imagine, to be critical, even to disagree, and to make choices for themselves.

“Where The Mind Is Led Forward By Thee Into Ever Widening Thought And Action . . . My Father, Let My Country Awake”

Tagore rightly said, unless education reform efforts begin to address the deeper elements in our collective mindset that may be restricting change, reforms will remain piecemeal.

In his poem, Tagore not only lays out the ideal, but also proposes the way forward: “ever widening thought and action”. To bring about change, we must shift the way our society thinks about education: education that redefines success beyond a narrow preoccupation with marks; that encourages students not to passively memorize and accept but to think for themselves, form their own opinions, and act for the collective good.

Can we take the opportunity this Independence to resume Tagore’s educational heritage…For our students to progress as individuals who can think and speak boldly, whose souls are nurtured towards creativity and innovation, who embrace diversity through empathizing with others, who are committed to promoting a more just and inclusive society, who are able to think independently and freely and to persist the kind of education Rabindranath Tagore envisioned years back?

Educating through experience… John Dewey: The Modern Father of Experiential Learning

Education is life itself
– John Dewey

An American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer whose ideas have been highly significant in education, John Dewey (1859—1952) is lauded as the greatest educational thinker of the 20th century.

Dewey’s key interest in the philosophy of education reflects from the time he worked as a high school teacher to developing a belief in an empirically based theory of knowledge which evolved as his many prolific works on education, The School and Society, to name a few. Dewey’s educational theories were presented in My Pedagogic Creed (1897), The School and Society (1900), The Child and Curriculum (1902), Democracy and Education works and initiation. The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools was one of Dewey’s first initiations. This is where he was able to actualize his pedagogical beliefs which provided material for his first major (1916) and Experience and Education (1938).

John Dewey believed that learning was active and schooling unnecessarily long and restrictive.  His idea was that children came to school to do things and live in a community which gave them real, guided experiences which fostered their capacity to contribute to society.

For example, Dewey believed that students should be involved in real-life tasks and challenges:

  • Maths could be learnt via learning proportions in cooking or figuring out how long it would take to get from one place to another by mule
  • History could be learnt by experiencing how people lived, geography, what the climate was like, and how plants and animals grew, were important subjects

Dewey had a gift for suggesting activities that captured the center of what his classes were studying. Dewey’s education philosophy helped forward the “progressive education” movement, and spawned the development of “experiential education” programs and experiments. Dewey’s philosophy still lies very much at the heart of many bold educational experiments, such as Outward Bound.

Experiential Education

Experiential education is a process that occurs between a teacher and student that infuses direct experience with the learning environment and content. The term is mistakenly used interchangeably with experiential learning.  The Association for Experiential Education regards experiential education “as a philosophy and methodology in which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills and clarify values.” Many will find a relationship between experiential education and Educational progressivism. The former is the philosophy and the latter is the movement it informed (some might suggest it is still a current movement).

John Dewey was the most famous proponent of experiential education, perhaps paving the course for all future activities in his seminal Experience and Education, first published in 1938; a book that was not actually about experiential education, but about Dewey’s curriculum theory in the context of historical debates about school organization. Dewey’s fame during that period rested on relentlessly critiquing public education and pointing out that the authoritarian, strict, pre-ordained knowledge approach of modern traditional education was too concerned with delivering knowledge, and not enough with understanding students’ actual experiences. This is strange, because schools were not very well-formed during Dewey’s era (i.e., they were not yet “modern traditional education.”) Dewey’s work went on to influence dozens of other influential experiential models and advocates, including Foxfire, service learning, Kurt Hahn and Outward Bound, and Paulo Freire.

Dewey on Democracy in education…

Dewey’s recurrent and intertwining themes of education, democracy and communication are effectively summed up in the following excerpt from the first chapter, “Education as a Necessity of Life”, of his 1916 book, Democracy and Education: an introduction to the philosophy of education.

“What nutrition and reproduction are to physiological life, education is to social life. This education consists primarily in transmission through communication. Communication is a process of sharing experience till it becomes a common possession.”

For John Dewey, education and democracy are intimately connected.

According to Dewey good education should have both a societal purpose and purpose for the individual student.  For Dewey, the long-term matters, but so does the short-term quality of an educational experience.

Therefore, as educators we are responsible for providing students with experiences that are immediately valuable and which equip the students to contribute to society.

Why do so many students hate school???

It seems obvious, but usually an ignored question…said Dewey.

Dewey emphasized that the traditional teaching’s concern with delivering knowledge needed to be balanced with a much greater concern with the students’ actual experiences and active learning.

He was the most famous proponent of hands-on learning or experiential education, which is related to, but not synonymous with experiential learning. His theory of experience continues to be much read and discussed not only within education, but also in psychology and philosophy.

Dewey believed that an educator must take into account the unique differences between each student.  Each person is different genetically and in terms of past experiences.  Even when a standard curriculum is presented using established pedagogical methods, each student will have a different quality of experience.  Thus, teaching and curriculum must be designed in ways that allow for such individual differences.

For Dewey, education also a broader social purpose was to help people become more effective members of democratic society!  Dewey argued that the one-way delivery style of authoritarian schooling does not provide a good model for life in democratic society.  Instead, students need educational experiences which enable them to become valued, equal, and responsible members of society.

Many people then had misunderstood Dewey’s experiential education to progressive education. Progressive education, according to Dewey, was against traditional education methods.  In progressive education, freedom was the rule, with students being relatively unconstrained by the educator.  The problem with progressive education, said Dewey, is that freedom alone is no solution.  Learning needs a structure and order, and must be based on a clear theory of experience, not simply the whim of teachers or students.

His Philosophy

John Dewey was an educator, but he was first and foremost a political philosopher. He saw weaknesses in both the traditional and progressive styles of education. He explains in length his criticisms of both forms of education in his book, “Experience & Education”. In essence, he did not believe that they met the goals of education, which he defined as obtaining the freedom of thought. Interestingly and paradoxically, Dewey did not actually believe in freedom of thought in any kind of absolute sense, although some experiential educators are not aware of this aspect of his philosophy. Dewey advocated that education be based upon the quality of experience. For an experience to be educational, Dewey believed that certain parameters had to be met, the most important of which is that the experience has continuity and interaction.

Thus, Dewey proposed that education be designed on the basis of a ‘Theory of Experience’. In this respect, Dewey’s theory of experience rested on two central tenets – continuity and interaction.   

Continuity refers to the notion that humans are sensitive to (or are affected by) experience. In humans, education is critical for providing people with the skills to live in society.  Dewey argued that we learn something from every experience, whether positive or negative and ones accumulated learned experience influences the nature of one’s future experiences.

Interaction builds upon the notion of continuity and explains how past experience interacts with the present situation, to create one’s present experience. Any situation can be experienced in profoundly different ways because of unique individual differences e.g., one student loves school, another hates the same school.

Dewey also categorizes experiences as possibly being mis-educative and non-educative. A mis-educative experience is an experience that stops or distorts growth for future experiences. While a non-educative experience is an experience where a person has not done any reflection and so has obtained nothing for their mental growth that is lasting (“Experience & Education,” John Dewey). It is also important to note that John Dewey didn’t write a book called “experiential education.”

This is important for us as educators to understand.  Even as we cannot control students’ past experiences, we can try to understand those past experiences so that better educational situations can be presented to our students.  Ultimately, all a teacher has control over is the design of the present situation.  The teacher with good insight into the effects of past experiences which students bring with them better enables him/her to provide quality education which is relevant and meaningful.

His Influence

Dewey went on to influence many other influential experiential models and advocates. Many researchers credit him with the influence of Project Based Learning (PBL) which is best defined as instruction relating questions and technology relative to the students’ everyday lives to classroom projects. Students form their own investigation of their own group which allows students to develop valuable research skills. The students engage in design, problem solving, decision making, and investigative activities. It allows students to work in groups or by themselves and allows them to come up with ideas and realistic solutions or presentations. Students take a problem and apply it to a real life situation with these projects, which places students in the active role of researchers. Dewey’s views continue to strongly influence the design of innovative educational approaches, such as in outdoor education.

Dewey examines his theory of experience in light of practical educational problems, such as the debate between how much freedom v/s discipline to use.  Can we as educators use his approaches as useful guides to help solve such issues in our schools?

Throughout, there is a strong emphasis on the subjective quality of a student’s experience and the necessity for the teacher of understanding the students’ past experiences in order to effectively design a sequence of liberating educational experiences to allow the person to fulfill their potential as a member of society. Are we as educators doing that…?

Janusz Korczak : The Martyr

“The lives of great men are like legends – difficult but beautiful,” Janusz Korczak once wrote, and it was true of his.

Janusz Korczak (1878 – 1942), was a prolific Polish-Jewish children’s writer and educator who lived and died for his students. Born in Warsaw to a Jewish family he had the flair for writing as a child and wrote for several Polish newspapers.  After his graduation at medical school, he became a pediatrician and worked as a military doctor. Continuing with his flair and passion, he wrote a book called Child of the Drawing Room that gave him literary recognition.  He also designed an orphanage for Jewish children in Warsaw, where he formed a sort of a republic for children with its own small parliament, court and newspaper. In 1939, when World War II broke out, his orphanage was enforced to an extermination camp. Despite being offered a sanctuary Korczak turned it down repeatedly saying that he could not abandon his children and insisted he would go with his children. On that August day an eyewitnesses described the procession of Korczak and the children to the Umschlagplatz (deportation point to the death camps)

“The children were dressed in their best clothes, and each carried a blue knapsack and a favorite book or toy…. A miracle occurred. Two hundred children did not cry out. Two hundred pure souls, condemned to death, did not weep. Not one of them ran away. None tried to hide. Like stricken swallows they clung to their teacher and mentor, Janusz Korczak, so that he might protect and preserve them. Janusz Korczak was marching, his head bent forward, holding the hand of a child, without a hat, a leather belt around his waist, and wearing high boots. Two hundred children, dressed in clean and meticulously cared for clothes, as they were being carried to the altar, On all sides the children were surrounded by Germans…. They whipped and fired shots at them. The very stones of the street wept at the sight of the procession”

Janusz Korczak had the chance to save himself, a German officer recognized him as the author of one of his favorite children’s books and offered to help him escape. It was only with difficulty that he persuaded the Germans to take him too. He had spent long years of his life with children and now, on this last journey, he could not leave them alone. He wanted to ease things for them. He told the orphans they were going out in to the country, so they ought to be cheerful. Such was the legend: his love for children was so great that he give his own life for children.

Yet as Indians, we have never heard of Korczak, one of the first pedagogues who changed the general attitudes of teachers and parents towards students and children. His general concept was that any child has his own way, his own path, on which he embarks immediately following birth. The role of a parent or a teacher is not to impose other goals on a child, but to help children achieve their own goals.

Kristin Poppo an American educator writes – Korczak’s educational philosophies and writings have given us a great gift in understanding the child and affirming their growth as just and compassionate human beings. It leads us to recognize four ideas that shape the Understanding of the child and hence frame the teacher/student relationship and are the root of his pedagogy. They are…

Understanding Vulnerability

When interacting with children who have often grown quite tough from the conditions of their lives, educators often forget how little power children actually have. Korczak was quick to recognize that even in his toughest kids, their vulnerability had led to both their exploitation and their disempowerment. He often wrote about how children were forced to endure treatment that would be unacceptable amongst adults. This disregard for the child also led to a lack of appreciation for what children had to offer. Korczak recognized that children often have to spend so much time being defensive that they never have the opportunity to show their gifts. Korczak in a whimsical reflection wrote, “All children realizing my faults would be glad to change me, to make me better. The poor youngsters cannot grasp that my greatest fault is that I am no longer a child.”

Understanding Uniqueness

The recognition of the uniqueness of each and every child is key to nurturing children. Korczak kept detailed notes on the physical, emotional, cognitive and moral development of every child in his orphanage. He strived to understand the spark in each child, yet also recognized the mystery the child as well. He had a deep faith in the goodness of children and served as an advocate of juvenile delinquents in Warsaw. He recognized how the harsh conditions of one’s life could lead a child to be angry and distrustful, but he continued to trust that each child had the potential to contribute to larger community. Education’s fault was that its “approach to the child is in: ‘I’ll make a man out of you,’ rather than in the searching question: ‘What are you going to make of yourself, man?'”

Understanding Meaning Making

In step with social and cognitive constructivism, Korczak recognized that children are in the process of making meaning of themselves, their community and their world. Educators have a great influence as to how children understand the world in which they live. Is it cruel and vicious – a war of all against all? Is it a web of relationships where care spins new threads and new connections? Upon graduation from the orphanage Korczak told his children, “We give you one thing – however – a longing for a better life, one which does not yet exist, but which will one day, for a life of truth and justice.”

Understanding Community

Korczak did not lecture about community, he created it in his orphanages. The orphanage community was governed by the children and for the children. Korczak’s one ground rule was that the weak could not be exploited by the strong, and he helped the children create systems where respect of individual could be balanced with the needs of the larger community. Korczak trusted that most children could and would amend their behavior and care for the other if they were given the opportunity to see how their behavior affected the greater community and were able to experience the forgiveness by that community. Much of Korczak’s work focused on the ways in which children could learn to engage in respectful and caring relationships with each other through self-rule. Korczak wrote “I believe that many children rebel against virtue because they have been incessantly trained and overfed in its vocabulary. Let the child discover for himself, slowly the need for altruism, its beauty and its sweetness.”

In each of these understandings, educators are challenged to think deeply about the thoughts, concerns and needs of the child. Who is this child? What is their greatest gift? What do they fear? How can I make them feel valued? In doing the hard work of coming to know and care for the child, the educator not only comes to know that child, but has created a relationship so that he or she feels valued and respected. The child is then able to give back to the community because of the safety, care, and meaning that community has provided. These relationships are the building blocks of stewardship. These relationships teach the child to know and care for the other.

I believe that ultimately inspiring stewardship is trusting in the human potential for all educators to be stewards. Inspiring stewardship is a cognitive, emotional and moral process. It is a process that requires relationships based on compassion and trusts the potential for goodness in each and every child. It does not require training in educational methods, but rather a stretch to our most caring and compassionate selves.