Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Reality of their Lives

It was a typical day at school. After finishing the last lesson and seeing the children off, I went to the Principal's cabin to sign out for the day. When I was there, I realized something was amiss. Two set of parents had been called and there was a frantic hunt on in the neighbourhood for their children. From the conversation between the Principal, parents and supervisor, I figured out what had transpired.

One of our kids in a TFI classroom was thrown in the sewage drain flowing behind the school. What was more shocking was that he was thrown in the drain by none other than two of our school's senior students from grade X. While the ones who committed the crime escaped then, they were soon identified and reported to the school authorities.

I had reached the scene while this hunt was on. The children guilty of the act were brought to the school by their relatives. The conversation between parents, school staff and these students started on an interrogatory tone. They were asked questions about their whereabouts and then confronted directly on the incident. The moment the authorities realized that the children were evading the truth, all hell broke lose.

The father of one of the children slapped him right across his face. He then removed his leather belt and started whipping the child on every available part of his body, including his face. He went on for nearly five minutes using the strength of every muscle in his hand, shoulder and arms while constantly abusing the child. Instead of stopping him, the school supervisor egged him on saying "If you don't hit him, I will. He needs to be taught a LESSON he will never forget." She was holding a thick cane all this while. After he was done with one kid, he turned his attention to the other kid and hit him for the next five minutes. The first kid was still sobbing, his scars having turned red.

The only people trying to protect the children were my colleague from TFI and the man's wife. While my colleague realized soon his efforts were futile, the mother of the child persisted long enough to draw the wrath of the father's fury. He slapped her in front of everyone present there, accusing her of being incapable of managing the only job she has in the day - that of taking care of children when the father is at work.

I couldn't stand watching the drama any longer. I walked away from the scene, taking deep breaths trying to compose myself and not showing the anger that was seething within me. The violence was inhumane. How can one even think of inflicting such physically pain on their own children? How will that ever help change their behaviour? What it will do is only make the children accept that such violence is the right way of serving justice to someone who, they believe, has done wrong. They in turn will become who their parents are today.

The challenges in the classroom are manageable, but the influences outside the classroom are not. Finding ways to isolate my children from their neighbouring environment is difficult. How do I find ways to impart the wisdom that prevents them from internalizing the learning from such incidents - the lesson that is detrimental to them and their future families? How do I make them believe that there is a life that is without fear and violence? How do I make them walk a different path, one that they have never seen or one someone known to them has never walked? Considering we celebrated Independence Day just few days ago with them, how do I set them free from this vicious cycle? Ideas, anyone?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Teaching Science - Accuracy vs. Joy of Learning

I was telling her about my lesson on "Characteristics of Living Things" in which I taught my kids about 7 vital characteristics which all living things show - nutrition, reproduction, respiration, growth, movement, excretion and sensitivity. There were seven, yes, but these seven did not explain how the basic element 'fire' was not a living thing. Being neuroscientist in the making, I thought she would have a better answer for KIDS. She left me with an answer and an afterthought.

This was what she told me: First of all, these seven characteristics are not shown by ALL living things. For example, viruses do not show most of them. Viruses are said to be the bridge between the non living and the living. You should read these articles I am sending you to understand that. Secondly, the most consistent and measurable characteristic of a living things that their level of entropy actively keeps reducing.

And then I get a quote from the wiki article stating:

Later, building on this premise, in the famous 1944 book What is Life?, Nobel-laureate physicist Erwin Schrödinger theorizes that life, contrary to the general tendency dictated by the Second law of thermodynamics, decreases or maintains its entropy by feeding on negative entropy.

In 1964, James Lovelock was among a group of scientists who were requested by NASA to make a theoretical life detection system to look for life on Mars during the upcoming space mission. When thinking about this problem, Lovelock wondered “how can we be sure that Martian life, if any, will reveal itself to tests based on Earth’s lifestyle?” To Lovelock, the basic question was “What is life, and how should it be recognized?” When speaking about this issue with some of his colleagues at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, he was asked what he would do to look for life on Mars. To this, Lovelock replied: "I’d look for an entropy reduction, since this must be a general characteristic of life."

I ended the discussion feeling glad I learnt something new but at the same time wondering where to draw the line between being technically perfect vs. making science learning, inquiry, observation and skill centric. As much as I love ACCURATE science and reading about it, sometimes I am just amazed at how much we get caught up with the technicality to take away the joy of learning from kids. Wouldn't it be easier for kids to observe the seven characteristics and be 90% accurate than to check for 'entropy reduction' and be 100% accurate? 

I am sure my kids will not hold a grudge against me when they grow older for the 10% of the time they could not get the answer right. I will be happy when they hit 100% accuracy consistently for most everyday examples and ask me smart questions for those 10% examples for which the NASA scientists are figuring out answers to.

PS: This discussion reminded me of the TED talk I had seen sometime back! Do watch it to get a perspective.