Friday, April 27, 2012

To teach or to facilitate

Twenty years ago, I had a dance teacher who was a perfectionist in the sense that she would not let me move on to the next step. Those days, we were brought up believing, to a very high extent, that the teacher/grown up is always correct. So parental advice, on the face of a strict teacher was to insist that the child follow the teacher's instructions, especially if the field was one that they were not familiar with.

My dance teacher was not the only perfectionist teacher in my education career. I remember encountering several such teachers, notably, one from the youth red cross foot drill society, which I was part of in my youth.

Now Anjali is doing roller blading and she has a perfectionist teacher. Correction: There are two teachers who come from skater's academy. one is a perfectionist, and the other is not. on the first lesson, Anjali took the class of the non perfectionist teacher, along with the rest of the children while I joined the class of the perfectionist. Last lesson, she joined me and found that the teacher hardly had any praise for her. At home, we had been praising Anjali's roller blading as she was very daredevil about it. But the teacher kept criticising her pointing out things like not putting her good leg forward and not keeping a diamond and not putting her legs together when rolling.

Husband is less patient about things like this than I am and when the other group, which consisted mainly of children, some of whom couldnt even get up from the floor learnt an additional step than us, he lost his straw.

Anjali will join the children's group from next lesson. We have spoke to her and she is agreeable.

I think that education is at a crossroads between the teacher is always right phenomenon and the teacher is only possibly right and there are other ways to do the same thing phenomenon. Now the problem is that kids during their life will meet different kinds of people - the perfectionst criticising teacher and the encouraging facilitator. infact there is a possibility, even with the education revolution that is taking place, that they meet a teacher of the first kind than the facilitator.

It may have something to do with learning at IEP or the fact that I am married to a man who doesnt let me criticize Anjali's performance, that when a child refuses to learn, I ask myself what i am doing wrong that makes the child refuse to learn rather than mull over the fact that she is not learning.

Ofcourse, the math and the piano is important and we stress the role of effort and practice, but when the child makes a happy effort, we donot criticise the technique.

As husband says, when a baby learns to walk, we never tell the baby "You are walking with your legs bent inwards". No siree, we throw a party and grab the video camera and shoot reels of data which clog up the computer diskspace.

Short of homeschooling and unschooling, which I dont have the guts to do, one of the things we have to impart to children is how to deal with a teacher who focuses on technique so much that she has the potential to break your love for a subject. Husband's idea is to tell the child to ignore the teacher - which is a commonsensical and possibly wise answer, but which doesnot sound much practical to me. If this was a math teacher and you dont follow the technique, she might flunk all your tests.

Dont get me wrong, technique is important and curving fingers is important in playing piano and learning to bend and keep knees straight is important for roller blading. Anjali did a beautiful rendition of Ayar padi maligayil at the center for which she made up many of the steps. It was a beautiful dance, but I would hardly call it bharatanatyam. Now if I had sat down and told her to keep her half sitting posture, then the dance would have been more professional, but may not have had the feeling that it projected. All the scientific study says that true creativity comes when you stop constraining yourselves with the bounds derived from the mistakes that you might possibly make.

Read Imagine by Jonah Lehrer.

Afterall, Ramanujam flunked his Math tests because he didnt give the correct steps for a solution that he was asked to do, although he derived some beautiful formulae and relationships that were totally non trivial which he couldnt prove. Apparently he said that Saraswati whispered these relations to him when he was sleeping.

I quit both dance and red cross shortly after the experience with these teachers - both of which i had joined with much interest and gusto.

it is hard to switch from being a teacher to being a facilitator. One has to let go of his grownupness and begin to play.

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