Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Summer Camps

I remember poring over Bombay Times and Mumbai Mirror in a past life, thinking about all the cool (scary-sounding!) summer camps and wondering when the child would be old enough to require such things. Well, she is old enough now. Quite. There are a billion camps occurring simultaneously in Chennai, all of which are suitable for 7 year olds (with or without glasses and a tendency to acquire sunburn in the shoulders).

Heck! I even ran one myself. As in, I volunteered to conduct one session one day couple of weeks ago. Seriously. It was a 'Science Camp' - which is not saying much, because, which camp is not a science camp? Everything is tagged 'Science' these days. Which makes sense if you consider the context - ergo, kids in VII std. studying for the IITJEE. Thats the context. And the camp was in the monster's school. It was on the monster's birthday, and since it was to be run by parents, I volunteered us both, as parents, to the session. I was the 'expert' and I had 'helpers' - one adult (my husband!), and three high school kids from various.

What was the experience like? Well... In that past life, we used to try to do a science demo, experiment thingie every Saturday for a bunch of kids we were working with. It took a bit of homework. We pored over some internet sites and read things and got things together and so on. Typically, we were about three adults, breathing down the necks of twenty children. On the whole, while we never really walked away with the feeling of having 'taught' something, it was fun.

What was I expecting here? For one, I was expecting children to be eager-beavers and all, but to have a bit of discipline. I remember our discussions about the slum children we were working with in Mumbai, 'Yes, yes, they just don't know how to be disciplined. No one tells them, you see. The teachers...' It was convenient to accuse the parents, the teachers, the school system, the government and the siblings (of which there were many, families of at least 7 kids each). The kids could NOT sit still. When I taught math, I picked up 5 kids at a time, at most I could handle 10. I gave them problems to do. I worked one on one with those who lacked conceptual understanding. I sat at the desks with them. For the science/demo things, we had to face them, and run our demos from the 'Teacher's desks' and the kids just wouldn't sit still or down! That was irritating and we blamed not ourselves but other factors. All the while sort of assuming that if we went to a 'good' school and did the same things, kids would just sit down and listen.

Guess what? These non-slum kids were NO DIFFERENT. In fact, it was a much more frustrating experience for me overall, of course because I had set my mental expectations very differently. I don't know how I could have forgotten - especially children, its impossible to teach them anything! We regrouped after a while. We used an old trick I learnt from the world famous csm - the 1 minute quiet meditation. We tried to invite discussion. We pulled the noisy boy from his chair and made him stand in front of the class with us and tell everyone loudly whatever it was he wanted to say. We had a hundred things they could play with. We ran out with them into the sun with things that changed colour. We measured temperatures. We played games. We did lots of things (sweating buckets, while at it).

Its not even a post-mortem reflection. With both of us being in the classroom, we could sense that it was not an experience that was enjoyable to either of us. We are not inexperienced in dealing with larger number of kids. In fact, we have such different strengths that usually, we make a great tag team in such situations. I cannot pin it down any better, but that morning was not fun. I found myself thinking about my sessions with the kids in Mumbai, wistfully. I do miss them, still.

I indulge in a lot of loose talk about the scientific method, the spirit of questioning, and understanding the world around us, its importance. In my (work) circle, the disdain for the high school system, and comparisons with that idyllic time we grew up in, is almost a daily event. I propound several hypotheses myself about children today (mostly, we are talking about children who are 19-21 years of age and tracing their annoying behaviors to their schooling and upbringing and so on). And my 'summer camp' episode gave me one more hypothesis, for coffee time discussions.

We are faced with a glut - of information, and resources, today. The idiot box is bombarding us with really random nuggets of information. The web is an almost limitless source. Our textbooks are more verbose than ever. Everyone is talking all the time. Text messages, telling us this and that. Nutrition. Energy. People skills. Children, young adults, adults, everyone knows so much these days. About everything under the sun. Its a matter of great pride to parents, and ourselves, that we are so 'well informed' Its nice, its wonderful, it seems to be the path forward. But I don't always like it. To me, there is a component of 'science' and 'living' which has to involve sitting down and thinking about oneself. There is hardly any time, no space, or the pre-requisite of silence, for this reflection. Its a sad loss, and at least a part of the behaviors of kids (of various ages) that we crib about, can be attributed to that.... And this is the part of the scientific method that you don't get in any of the summer camps around town, for sure!!

In summary: Information:: Too much. Ability to process information:: Virtually non-existent. Important in science:: Thinking about yourself. Should kids do this:: Why the hell not? Kids most certainly should think about themselves, they can do it better than us, with more humour and cuteness and innocence. Of course, if they can peel away from TV for long enough.


Ludwig said...

I invite you to consider this. A visit may be arranged.

Choxbox said...

Very wise words Kenny. Can I link?

dipali said...

Such profound truths.
Information is not necessarily knowledge is definitely not wisdom:(
Good to have you back!