Teach to Transgress, Teach beyond Fear

20 Aug

Have we been unfair to our students by teaching them to sort the world simply into right or wrong? We tell them that for every thing there is a right answer or a wrong answer. In mathematics, there is a method that one needs to follow, in history there is a standard ‘right’ answer and it goes on. We sectioned off life into subjects and timetables, presented them in a neat grid and called it school. Inside this grid gave them even tinier mouthfuls called textbooks and methods. We have taught them to chew pre-digested food. And no more.

And to the same children we say – grow up to be lions. Fend for yourself in the work-jungle. Be employable. Deliver initiative, responsibility and more. Be resourceful.

Did we not go through 16 years of formal education telling them the exact opposite?

Did we not say in class “Don’t talk!” “Only the textbook matters. Do not write anything in the examination that is not in the notes or the textbook” “Don’t waste time with your new ideas”. “Do what the teacher tells you to do, follow the rules!”

You cannot ask students to replicate things for 16 years of their education and then suddenly ask them to think on their own. They have been taught to not think on their own. They have been taught to just follow instructions.

If children are always told to conform, always told to be ‘right’, to always be good and to always do things in that ‘one right way’, then are they prepared for the rocky road ahead? What happens when the right way doesn’t work? What happens when life is not a simple algebra equation and fancy formulae do not grow the business? What happens when spelling everything right all the time does not get you that promotion? Do children know that the world will expect more than obedience from them? That the ‘best’ person is not the one who does things just the way the teacher said, but is one who forges a way through tough situations and finds solutions for themselves and those around.

We have taught our children to compete with each other, to race ahead. With myopia tinted lenses we cheer them on as they leave others behind. Teaching them to blinker themselves in their lives, learning neither kindness or empathy from schools. These are human values, and we learn and reinforce them in our interactions. But is there anything in the curriculum that makes us do any more than pay lip service to sharing, helping, asking for help, being considerate and so much more that makes us human? Does rote learning have any room for people and their problems? Can marks grow people? Of course not.

Students are not mere photocopiers. They are citizens-in-training. Citizens of a community, where they must live with dignity and without fear. And yet our classrooms are places run by fear. What if the answer is wrong? Children either shake with terror or brazen it out. What if the students are rude to me? Teachers feel compelled to stifle anything that could move from the safe narrow path – beyond that lies fear. Fear that they will lose control. Fear that they will be shown up as less than competent. Fear that the results will not be good enough. The fear drives the focus. At a huge cost to all. For we learn to follow in fear. We learn to be policed. This is why when we grow up we follow rules only for the fear of punishment, not because it is the right thing for all. We seek more control, because our schools taught us that there is fear beyond the narrow path of being controlled. We call it a tradition, because in our schooled blinkers we have seen no other way.

The difference between a good classroom and a mediocre one is how one deals with fear. Learning itself is an act of acknowledging vulnerability. Compounded on that is the classroom – an act of subjecting oneself to some one else’s power. But classes and learning must not be power play – that is a wasteful distraction. Look to those wonderful classes, teachers and students where fear does not rule. It is those classrooms that foster growth beyond mere marks – where good people are grown. This is often the difference between the elite /progressive schools and the ones that lag in performance. The progressive have moved beyond fear – they teach their students to stand up for themselves, to disagree with respect. Their teachers are helped to be strong without power, to be firm without invoking fear, to laugh and to learn together. Classrooms need teachers so that students can go far beyond the textbooks. The textbook is a launching pad and their teachers facilitate the leap. The best schools know that all teaching and learning is really about conquering fears with reason and within reason.

This is the job assigned to teachers – to facilitate the transgression of old boundaries so that new growth can happen. Transgressions are the business of the classroom (ask any teacher, they will tell you this is what they manage all the time). But it is okay to transgress. Be wrong, and learn from it. Be right and break the boundaries of it. Be experimental, be experiential. Transgress in small steps so that your teacher can help when you stumble. Teachers – build journeys of transgression, not repetition so that our students can live in the future not merely repeat what is past.

These are the three things our teacher’s training and teacher’s professional development should be about: How to harness the power of transgression, how to manage the fear of transgression and how to handle the consequences of transgression for growth.

Give the teachers these tools, and they will do the job.


Teach to transgress, teach beyond fear

April 24, 2015, 2:46 pm IST in EduCable | India | TOI

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