Friday, April 29, 2011
How does this scenario play out in real life?
Open any newspaper these days and you will see some girl(s) raped/murdered by a thwarted/jilted individual. In Chennai, a few months ago a school girl was kidnapped by a young man and his friends because he felt he had the right to do so (after she had said 'NO'). Fortunately for the girl, their plans were thwarted by the public and police.
One friend contends that this has always been there; it has to do with our repressive social practices. Another says it is because our society is going through so many socio economic changes that men resort quickly to power struggles and are less inhibited. We can analyze and counter analyze and not agree on where to lay the blame.
While sexual violence as a power equation is used in all cultures, in some stratas of our society, it is accepted as the norm. Notice, I don't say everyone feels that way. But one such person is one too many.
We learn to accept 'eve teasing,' or atleast put up with it; we teach our children to be careful because it is the victim who feels the brunt of society's wrath, not the aggressor.
What is the next step though? How do we address the issue? These men were children once. They had adult role models—parents, neighbors, siblings, teachers, peers…male and female role models. What makes some boys grow up with respect for the other human being and others with the need to over power/control?
How do we foster respect for the other individual irrespective of sex in our children? We are very quick to teach our children not to steal, not to lie, etc. What about the mores in gender equality and sexual relationships? Yes, these two go hand in hand.
Right now we wait until our kids make an error in judgment and reprimand them. But how many of us broach the subject openly? Do we tell our children, boys and girls, that they need to be respectful of others’ personal space and their bodies?
Let’s start with our young children and monitor the language we use with them. No, “Oh she is a girl, she must (not) do this.” If someone steeped in the orthodox ways does say something to that effect, please counter it—say something like, “Yes, but times have changed. Girls can study/play/do the same things as boys.” It’s not just the little girl who needs to hear this message. Boys need to hear the same thing to understand that equality is the norm--there would be no need to impose their decision on others.
It is the same with respect to their personal space and their person—tell your boys and girls that people should treat their bodies with respect. Parents, don't wait for a magic age to talk to your children about their bodies and how to stay safe from predators. There is an added twist to this in our society. Recently there was a report that the number of teenage girls running away with much older men dropped after the police department and an NGO worked together to introduce sex education in certain sections of the city.
When children say No, they have a right to be taken at their word.
to be continued...
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, we must be active particpants in a democracy for the government to function properly. If we want the govenrment to provide appropriate sercices--be it early intervention, mental health services or life time care, we need to be involved in the decision making, we have to ask questions and hold people accountable-at every level.
So here it is...stories from our fellow sufferers-on how they had to pay a bribe and others who didn't...let's try our best to be a part of the solution...
Friday, April 22, 2011
Thursday, April 21, 2011
“No, I'm not nosey..." Zarin smiled at me. "I like to know what’s going on in my students’ lives. It’s such an easy way to build a good relationship with them. Talking to them gives me an insight into their likes and dislikes. If I can use their interest to cite examples it definitely perks their attention."
“And of course, if I have to redirect them or be firm with them for any reason, I find that they listen to me without antagonism. They may not like what I say or the consequences I give, but they understand that it is not because I’m exercising my authority. I believe this is because they feel I’m interested in them.”
"Was it a spontaneous or planned decision?” I asked her.
“Did I plan this strategy from the beginning of my career? Is that what you want to know? Well, it started with a cheeky girl in my early years of teaching. I commented on how nice her hairstyle looked and she started a discussion on how she styled it. Other students joined in and shared some interesting tit bit or the other. This happened frequently and soon I noticed that they were better focused and redirected in class."
"This is when I made a conscious decision to talk to my students—just to engage with them for a few minutes. You know what?” she paused. “Over a period of time students from other classes also stopped to chat with me. Some of other teachers think I do it to be popular but I like listening to their ideas and point of views,” she ended.
The school counsellor continued the conversation. “And guess what? We’ve been able to stop some serious bullying, help students facing very difficult home lives and even advocate for a child with depression—all because the students feel they can trust Zarin and talk to her.”
"Do you plan what to say?” I asked.
“No, I listen. The studnets talk about their interests and hobbies and occasionally their concerns. If it is serious, I tell them I have to involve the couselor. So far they’ve trusted me,” she smiled.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
You have to be a creative thinker to be able to say the same thing in ten different ways to ten different students. Why so many ways? What works for one student may not work for the other. But your purpose is the same—get the student back on track. The sensitive student needs an encouraging remark while the bubbly one responds better to a redirection which catches her attention. The aggressive student needs a non reactive approach or humor.
Here are some of the best examples I’ve seen…enjoy:)
- Kindergartner 1: Hey Nick Nack Paddywack, do you want to play with me?
Kindergartner 2 was too shocked to respond.
Teacher: Save the song for the music period and use his name (Nick/Nicklaus) in our class.
Kindergartner 1: Ok. Nick, do you want to play with me?
I still don’t know how the teacher kept a straight face!
- The 4th standard student was too excited—he giggled and got out of his seat distracting everyone else around him.
Teacher: I know it is difficult to have new people in the classroom. But if I focus on them and forget to do my work, what will happen? We won’t finish our task. So, I’m going to try to do my work—that’s really what our visitors want to see. I hope all of you will do the same.
The young man smiled but went back to do his assignment.
- All eyes were on the teacher as she walked in to class. There was tension in the air.
High school student: Hey Mrs. K, I’m not going to do this assignment. It is too boring.
Teacher: Oh, I hope you’ll change your mind. By the way did anyone watch the cricket match yesterday? What did you think about it?
An active discussion followed for the next two to three minutes. At the end of the discussion, everyone got their books out and the lesson progressed without any power struggle.
- The 5th standard student stood tongue tied in front of the class with her diorama. Her classmates started giggling and snickering. But the young girl stood frozen.
Her teacher walked up to her and said, “I see you have made a diorama of the pond ecosystem. Can you tell me something about your diorama?” The student turned to the teacher and started describing her work.
The teacher gently turned her around to face the audience and the presentation continued.
Monday, April 18, 2011
Last week a very pregnant friend reported how her mother in law constantly engaged in verbal battles and stressed her out. Then another pregnant acquaintance mentioned that her in laws pestered her not to eat until her husband got back (never mind that she was hungry). Finally I read another woman say that she was pregnant and her in laws force her to drink alcohol. You know what the most amazing thing was? All three were well educated women living in cosmopolitan cities, with easy access to information. Only one person realized that these actions were detrimental to the health and wellbeing of her baby! I agree these were cases of power struggles. But is that all?
Having a child is big responsibility. It means being able to say no and standing up for yourself-not just whining about how others try to control your life. The sensible acquaintance went ahead and ate a healthy balanced meal on time. “I did it very calmly too—no point in getting angry. I don’t want to agitate my child over other people’s petty struggles,” she said.
How many people in India give thought to the relationship between pregnancy and alcohol consumption? For some people drinking alcohol is a fad—a matter of being cool. For others it is a necessity due to a dependency. Will they make different choices if they know how easily alcohol reaches the unborn child and impacts the child’s development? Most important of all, will they stand up to pressure from peers or family members, and say no?
I’m not making a moral judgment here. I don’t consider drinking alcohol a sin nor do I want to control others’ behaviors. I am just puzzled that educated people haven’t learned to make informed decisions.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
This week has been hectic with travel, long, hard meetings and a lot of planning. In spite of all this, I had fun visiting a couple of schools run by an NGO in a very rural part of India. In fact it was the highlight of my entire trip. Even the mission of the organization was different—they don’t provide a solution to the questions posed by our educational system. They empower parents in the rural areas to find their own answers. What they do provide is a glimpse of how schools can and should be run, how trained teachers can facilitate learning instead of dictating what is to be learned and how students can use democratic values in their everyday lives. The last is particularly heartening in view of the morass our politicians create in this country.
The village committee takes on the decision making role—be it admissions, budgeting or policy making. The NGO takes on hiring and training teachers, working out the scope and sequence of skills and day to day functioning of the school. The schools are funded from overseas Indians and the accounting is meticulously detailed. I can’t express how pleased I was at the transparent accounting.
The villagers have been so pleased with their children’s education that neighbouring villages too want similar projects in their area. The NGO hopes that this will push the public to demand the same level of services from the Government schools in these areas. I believe that change can come only from within. Parent learning to ask questions and hold professionals (teachers, administrators and government bodies) accountable will definitely bring the necessary change.
Sometimes the people I meet in the educational profession (I’m not talking about teachers) depress me. But this experience was so refreshing that I hope it will counter any cynical twinge I feel from time to time.
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Two doors down from my parents live a young couple with their two children. It is a typical joint family. No need to go into their religion or community, save to say that they are fairly conservative. That family must have moved in after I left for college an I didn't nteract much with them on my visits (it was time to meet all my extended family and friends). All this changed with the arrival of the second child.
Both boys had developmental disabilities and the parents were trying to identify which early intervention service would be best for them. They contacted me on one of my trips and I got to know them well. The mom and I explored different schools—we had to factor in transportation, one on one assistance for at least one child, programs which catered to both their needs (some programs offered a morning shift for one child and the afternoon for the second)…throw in the time it takes to get from place to place in Chennai! Oh, how could I forget the fees? Who said non profits don’t charge a hefty fee for their services?
Some of these schools are great—they use minimal resources to do the best they can. Their methods may not be up to date but their philosophies are. Then there are centers which are purely money making businesses. Teachers were away from the class, talking on their cell phones, therapists missed sessions because they were still at lunch…but no my post is not about the quality of services at some of the special schools. Nor is it about the standoffish relatives who watch TV while this mom took care of her kids and did all the household chores.
On my last trip I was talking to the mom about how things were moving along. Did she find someone to assist with her child? Did they have regular physiotherapy sessions? Are they less stressed about going to school (the boys used to cry as soon as I started talking in Tamil or English with their mom—two languages spoken at school by the teachers and therapists)?
Along the way, the mom said, “Do you know how much my oldest has matured? He understands and adjusts to the situation so well. My husband takes us to school in the morning, so both the children have someone with them. In the afternoon I’m alone with the both kids and I take an auto. When I reach home, I tell him, “Sweetheart, I’ll leave you with auto driver uncle, while I take chotu upstairs. I’ll come back for you. OK?” He gives me the biggest smile as I put him on the floor of the auto. He understands that as the older brother he has responsibilities and honestly, rarely ever cries when I leave him. What a big difference from the beginning of the school year, right?”
She was very matter of fact but I was stunned. My first thought was that this was an amazing woman. If roles were reversed, I don’t know if I would have the same strength or cheerfulness in providing for her children. Then came the anger.
You see at the same time I was helping her friend get information on special education services in anther country—where it was through public education channels. All I had to do was pass on the links with information on the educational authorities. There was information on admission procedures, evaluations, types of services provided, eligibility criteria and how to get the best possible services through the Government Authorities. This included medical aid, one to one assistants, transportation, after school programs…all paid for by the taxes!
Here we elect our government based on who pays the most for our votes—freebies we don’t work for, just to make sure that the person from the other caste or religion doesn’t fill up his or her bank account ahead of us. At what cost? The dignity of that mother? The safety of that child?
Please don’t tell me India is a poor country. There is more than enough money coming in that we can also provide these services for our children. We sell our votes, refuse to acknowledge governance and accountability go together, and look at society with our pettiness. Ultimately our greed forces that six year old to understand and adapt to his mom’s situation.
The silver lining—those auto drivers! The mom says they are always patient and kind and engage with her child while she is away:)
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Lots of parents in our school (especially those gifted bakers…yumm) were great believers in making things from scratch. As a proponent for natural foods and less processed food I have to tell you, good taste and smell did the job:) A lack of bright colors didn’t impact their selections or their appetite.
I can see corporations being happy with the wait and see decision of the FDA. But surely as a parent you’d rather be safe and limit the use of colors. For those of you who would like to know more about the common foods with these dyes, here’s a link to the 2008 petition to ban the use of artificial food coloring. Appendix 1 has a fairly comprehensive list of these foods. Not surprisingly, many of these are foods marketed for children.
For parents in India, we get a lot of these products but we don’t always get the information. How many of us give thought to food coloring? As always, information is powerful—do soak it in.
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
A few weeks later we started noticing a pattern—Anil ate very few kinds of foods. His lunch included starchy foods like rice, potato or pasta; yoghurt (sweetened), snacks like potato chips, and of course desserts. There was also a pattern with Anil’s performance in class—he became very excited and energetic after lunch. His body moved more, he kept bumping into his classmates, and talked out of turn. Eventually he slowed down—again it was harder for him to stay focused on his work and stay with the group. Anil had such an endearing personality that his friends forgave him when he held them back or when he unintentionally hurt them.
During the Parent Teacher Conferences we brought this up and sure enough, Anil’s parents had similar concerns about his diet. They wanted to include vegetables and more protein but didn’t want a power struggle over food. His parents hadn’t made the connection with the fluctuation in his energy levels. We had noticed a few other signs which said there may be an oral sensitivity issue (only soft foods, only white starchy foods). In fact Anil wouldn’t even touch most of the foods we had for taste tests in class.