A Learner Centered Classroom

The notion of a learner centered classroom is alien to most of the teachers who still harbor the belief that the learner is ignorant , an empty vessel to be filled with the divine gift of knowledge which the teacher alone possesses. In these technology driven times , it is important to realize that no student an ignoramus. In fact he is well aware of ideas and concepts beyond the reach of the text books and the prescribed syllabus, thanks to technology and often, supportive parents .The teacher, however , has the advantage of experience which can give the information readily available a colour and tone that comes with years of observation and experimentation.The teacher has to leverage this aspect in the most amicable manner . A pleasant and understanding teacher who is learned but willing to listen to his pupils is delight to be with for any student.

A learner -centered classroom revolves around the needs and abilities of the learner. It not only debunks the notion that the learner is ignorant but actively seeks to encourage the interaction and participation of the learner in the process of learning. It poses greater challenges to the faculties of the teacher in terms of constant innovation and creative thinking. Activities, though time bound have to enable the learners to experiment and learn for themselves. Here, the teacher considers the learner to have equal stake in the process of learning. The teacher willingly goes beyond the text book , designs activities which are individual , pair or group based , encourages the student without reservations and is honest enough to accept her lack of expertise in case , such a situation arises. Co-operative learning is the norm of the day and it works in the best interests of both the parties, the learner and the teacher , benefiting the school and society at large in the long run.

So, does a learner centered classroom undermine the role of a teacher ? The answer to the question is a resounding , no . Not only that, it actually benefits the teacher by keeping the learner in her alive and thirsting for more knowledge. After all , she has to get back to a bunch of enthusiastic young learners ,who will keep her on her toes!!!

An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum by Stephen Spender

The Poet

Stephen Spender was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. His poems give voice to the concerns and the exploitation of the poorer sections in the society.

Here are a few lines from the poem School Boy by Stephen Spender. Note the picture of dismal unhappy childhood that the poet recreates in these lines.

I am glad I met you on the edge
Of your barbarous childhood

In what purity of pleasure
You danced alone like a peasant
For the stamping joy’s own sake!

How, set in their sandy sockets,
Your clear, truthful, transparent eyes
Shone out of the black frozen landscape
Of those gray-clothed schoolboys!

How your shy hand offered
The total generosity
Of original unforewarned fearful trust,
In a world grown old in iron hatred!

I am glad to set down
The first and ultimate you,
Your inescapable soul. Although
It fade like a fading smile
Or light falling from faces
Which some grimmer preoccupation replaces.

Now let’s come to An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum which echoes similar thoughts . The poet’s sympathies lie with the impoverished children of the slum who are taught Shakespeare and shown maps when they have a bleak present and a dark future awaiting them.

Summary
The children in the classroom are unique individuals but a common thread of poverty and unhappy childhood binds them to a dark life. The phrase , rootless weeds , suggests that they are unwanted like the weeds, living on the fringes of the society. The tall girl , the paper thin boy, the dreamer are all suffering from one malaise or the other. One of the students has inherited his father’s disease which has disfigured him . The only person who seem to retain his cheerfulness is the one who lives in dreams , unaware of the harsh realities that surround him.

The walls of the school have been painted with the money received in donation hence the sour cream colour of the walls. The poet emphasizes that there is no point in teaching students the high ideals of Shakespearean literature when they are unable to lead a decent life. The maps on the wall indicate a free world where one can find his way but the reality is so different ,so grim , that the poet calls Shakespeare wicked and map a bad example.

According to the poet the maps, studies of Shakespeare or great civilizations of the past hold no significance to the students as their future is dark and their windows look out to a hazy , fog-filled life that shows no change for the better. Their narrow world has a dark , lead sky which is filled with hopelessness. Though they might be tempted to steal to better lives, this is almost impossible as the fog that darkens their day will only turn into endless nights.

The poet sarcastically asks the authorities to not show the poor children , dreams which cannot be full filled and asks them to blot it all . He says ‘so blot their maps with slums as big as doom’.
In the last stanza the poet says this can change only if the visitors, the governor, the inspector became truly involved and concerned about the welfare of these poor children . If only they did something that was genuine and meaningful unlike the usual lip-service would their lives be brightened . And they would be free spirits running azure (blue ) on sands of gold , exploring the possibilities of great learning and a better future.

Questions and answers

1. What do you think is the colour of ‘sour cream’? Why do you think the poet has used this expression to describe the classroom walls?
The poet , Stephen Spender relates to the suffering of the poor children in a school in a slum . The schools walls are painted with the money received as donation, probably , given without any true intention of improving the lives of students who study there. Hence the poet calls the walls to be painted in sour cream .’ Sour’ suggests unpleasantness and lack of will.

2. The walls of the classroom are decorated with the pictures of ‘Shakespeare’, ‘buildings with domes’, ‘world maps’ and beautiful valleys. How do these contrast with the world of these children?
The children live in a state of perpetual poverty and undernourishment . Their very appearance suggests the extent of their suffering and impoverishment. The pictures adorning the walls of the classroom have nothing to do with the reality of the lives of the children . Hence the poet calls Shakespeare wicked and map a bad example in the poem.

3. What does the poet want for the children of the slums? How can their lives be made to change ?
The poet wants the politicians , law makers, the general public etc to take genuine interest in the welfare of the children . He urges them to sincerely work for the betterment of the students’ lives before attempting to teach them grandiose notions of literature and history.

My Mother at 66 by Kamala Das

The Poet

Kamala Das was born into a illustrious family of writers and thinkers on 31st March , 1934. Her mother, Nalappat Balamani Amma was a noted poet of Malayalam Literature . She wrote under the name Madhavikutty initially and later as Kamala Surayya . A strong and powerful voice of Indian Literature , Kamala Das comes across as a sensitive and keen student of human frivolities and manners.

Here’s a beautiful poem by her in which her defiance to comply to the norms of societal expectations , to bury her identity and be one among others, to fit in ,clearly comes through.

An Introduction
I don’t know politics but I know the names
Of those in power, and can repeat them like
Days of week, or names of months, beginning with Nehru.
I am Indian, very brown, born in Malabar,
I speak three languages, write in
Two, dream in one.
Don’t write in English, they said, English is
Not your mother-tongue. Why not leave
Me alone, critics, friends, visiting cousins,
Every one of you? Why not let me speak in
Any language I like? The language I speak,
Becomes mine, its distortions, its queernesses
All mine, mine alone.
It is half English, half Indian, funny perhaps, but it is honest,
It is as human as I am human, don’t
You see? It voices my joys, my longings, my
Hopes, and it is useful to me as cawing
Is to crows or roaring to the lions, it
Is human speech, the speech of the mind that is
Here and not there, a mind that sees and hears and
Is aware. Not the deaf, blind speech
Of trees in storm or of monsoon clouds or of rain or the
Incoherent mutterings of the blazing
Funeral pyre. I was child, and later they
Told me I grew, for I became tall, my limbs
Swelled and one or two places sprouted hair.
When I asked for love, not knowing what else to ask
For, he drew a youth of sixteen into the
Bedroom and closed the door, He did not beat me
But my sad woman-body felt so beaten.
The weight of my breasts and womb crushed me.
I shrank Pitifully.
Then … I wore a shirt and my
Brother’s trousers, cut my hair short and ignored
My womanliness. Dress in sarees, be girl
Be wife, they said. Be embroiderer, be cook,
Be a quarreller with servants. Fit in. Oh,
Belong, cried the categorizers. Don’t sit
On walls or peep in through our lace-draped windows.
Be Amy, or be Kamala. Or, better
Still, be Madhavikutty. It is time to
Choose a name, a role. Don’t play pretending games.
Don’t play at schizophrenia or be a
Nympho. Don’t cry embarrassingly loud when
Jilted in love … I met a man, loved him. Call
Him not by any name, he is every man
Who wants a woman, just as I am every
Woman who seeks love. In him . . . the hungry haste
Of rivers, in me . . . the oceans’ tireless
Waiting. Who are you, I ask each and everyone,
The answer is, it is I. Anywhere and,
Everywhere, I see the one who calls himself I
In this world, he is tightly packed like the
Sword in its sheath. It is I who drink lonely
Drinks at twelve, midnight, in hotels of strange towns,
It is I who laugh, it is I who make love
And then, feel shame, it is I who lie dying
With a rattle in my throat. I am sinner,
I am saint. I am the beloved and the
Betrayed. I have no joys that are not yours, no
Aches which are not yours. I too call myself I.
Kamala Das

Now , let’s come to My Mother at 66, which is rather simple and straightforward , an expression of a daughter’s pangs of guilt as she leaves her aged mother to get back to her busy life. She traumatized by the fear of losing her mother to death , which is hovering around but has commitments , duties or responsibilities which compel her to go back to her city, her place , her home leaving her. The daughter prefers to look out at the brighter side of life as they , she and her mother , tired, aged drive to the airport. While parting , all that the daughter does is to smile a forced , artificial smile , in an effort to hide her true fears and insecurities and perhaps put a brave face in front of her mother. The poem is one long winding sentence perhaps referring to the long trail of thought striking the poet.

My Mother at 66 by Kamala Das
Driving from my parent’s home to Cochin last Friday morning,
I saw my mother, beside me, doze, open mouthed,
her face ashen like that of a corpse
and realized with pain
that she was as old as she looked
but soon put that thought away,
and looked out at Young Trees sprinting,
the merry children spilling out of their homes,
but after the airport’s security check,
standing a few yards away,
I looked again at her, wan,
pale as a late winter’s moon and felt that old familiar ache,
my childhood’s fear,
but all I said was,
see you soon, Amma,
all I did was smile and smile and smile……

Questions & answers

1. What is the kind of pain and ache that the poet feels?
The poet feels the pain of leaving her old mother alone in Cochin while she hurries back to her city to resume her busy life . She fears that she may not be able to see her mother alive when she comes again. It’s interesting that neither the poet nor her mother state the obvious . The poem is a reflection upon the loneliness in the lives of the elderly in today’s world.

2. Why are the young trees described as ‘sprinting’?
The sprinting young trees could refer to the sight of trees sprinting backwards as the vehicle moves ahead. It could also refer to the fact that youngsters leave their homes for good leaving behind the aged parents to fend for themselves.

3. Why has the poet brought in the image of the merry children ‘spilling out of their homes’?
While driving to the airport, the poet diverts her attention from her fear of losing her mother to death and looks out of the window. The children spilling out of their homes is a beautiful sight to behold , though in a more realistic sense it refers to the universal truth that youngsters will leave their nests to establish their homes, their lives once they grow up.

4. Why has the mother been compared to the ‘late winter’s moon’?
The poet’s mother is in the sunset of her life . She is compared to late winter’s moon because she is fast approaching her death .

5. What do the parting words of the poet and her smile signify?
The parting words do not speak the whole truth. The poet is terrified at having to face the reality of her mother’s death .She says is ‘see you soon, amma’ , though she is not sure whether she will be able to see her mom alive again. The smile that the poet puts on is a vain attempt to hide her fears . She did not alarm her mother so, simply puts on a brave face and sports a smile.

Note : The phrase ‘she was as old as she looked’, is a significant one. The poet means that there’s no hiding the truth, which is evident to both the mother and the daughter. However, both choose to ignore it and paint a happy picture.

Use of figures of speech :

Simile:
her face ashen like that of a corpse – the mother’s face is compared to that of a corpse , pale and weak in appearance

I looked again at her, wan,
pale as a late winter’s moon- the poet’s mother is compared to late winter’s moon symbolizing that she is at the threshold of death, end of her life.

Note: The poem is a reflection of the loneliness of the elderly in today’s fast paced life. The compulsions of the hectic modern life leave the elderly to fend for themselves. The mushrooming of old age homes across the country are a testimony to this fact. The crumbling social values, rising aspirations, pressures of work, social life, the advent of technology have all played their roles in creating this ever widening gap between the generations.

the dotted line

Its what a school is all about the training to follow the dotted line..Its about just being like others . Not any different . The similar dress, haircut, similar thinking , presentation everything. Its for the teacher to trim the  frills, soften the sharp edges, even if it means  making the learners  a little more duller, automatons who churn out notebooks with red lines, projects which are presentable .  Its all about uniformity, notebooks with a  long authoritative tick. Its about fitting in and never standing out . Its about writing just what is needed not more , not less, in the ordinary language lest examiners penalize verbosity, pedantry ..in general showing off. Its about what you can do in that limited space and forge ahead..make a difference ..after all the differences have been ironed out. That’s what  a school is all about ..creating photocopies , those who think alike and work alike and do what is told.

Once in a while there comes a someone who refuses to walk the dotted line  and there’s hue and cry..humiliations in PTA meetings, expressions of anger , helplessness.. and then as if out of the blue ..the unpredictability of life .. life that never follows the dotted line..just when life  has fit into a pattern,…the  fickleness of it all is exposed  ..yet the dotted line beckons..

A spirited youth left for the heavenly abode yesterday…Akshay RIP

Living to learn

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