The Journey Named Hope

Vineeta Sood <vineetasood@hotmail.com>

As I was reading through the stories, I felt like I was on a tour to the whole spectrum of life. I shared many processes with the writers as part of my own experience. Beginning from the importance of family support and their trust in each other, their ability to give the gift of freedom of thought and expression, a commitment to being there in times of need, and of course, not agreeing with everything and anything one decides to do. This very crucial support determines whether we will even start questioning something that is so obviously not right.

The major chunk of learning happens outside the classroom, where the classroom represents all the social pressures and expectations that exist in the society around us; the only difference being, in the classroom students are not allowed to react to those pressures. Instead, they are trained to accept all those values of hierarchy, competition (succeeding at the cost of others), drudgery, accepting and following others mindlessly, etc., followed by feelings of inadequacies, low self-esteem, self-worthlessness, attempting to be someone else all the time ó leading to emotional and physical violence. The result? Either we end up feeling that way all through our lives, or once we are in control, we end up making others feel what we have gone through. Either conformist or a rebel, never a critical thinker. Very truly put by Isaac, the education system is the way Ďto make someone insecure and dependentí. The education system all around the world is busy preparing individuals to fit into pre-cast moulds. American education was designed to prepare individuals to fit into the industrial age, as Zaid puts it, and classroom rules are designed to make the class manageable for the teachers. Where are the interests of the child and the requirements for a healthy learning process?

And yes Mako! I do know what Attention Deficit Disorder is. It is "when a child canít pay attention to the teacher while concentrating on a bird sitting on a pole for half an hour!" Other terms describing learning disabilities are used by the teachers to label children, instead of looking back and trying to find out where they themselves went wrong. And when these children get inputs from sensitive people who could understand them and help them out, within a year these kids are at par with other kids. And I experienced another interesting phenomenon. We know, schools have counselors who are supposed to look after childrenís emotional and behavioral problems. Many times, what do they do? Instead of looking at what is troubling the child, they counsel the child to pay attention and fit into the teacherís mould. This is really disturbing. And Makoís story, along with the others, tells very vividly that more often than not, these kids donít have any natural problem. All they need is some special attention, lots of patience, freedom of choice, depending on their interests, and alternative explanations to what they havenít understood.

There are lucky few who come out of this route, who have sensitive people around them to nurture their thoughts, to accept unconventional reactions most of the time, and to help them have faith in themselves, as urged by Shilpa. This acceptance gives us courage to find alternatives to the things that are not acceptable to us. But the path is not easy, as all the stories reflect the kind of reactions one gets from near and dear ones. As I was reading Shilpaís story, I found the reactions of people so identical to the ones we got, when we made our decision to not send both of our sons to school and instead allow them to learn at their own pace, according to their own interests: sheer disbelief, dumbfounded-ness, "Have you gone nuts?" and the usual, "You can do it, but I canít." But then isnít it all about what we want and the choices we make?

Isaacís story talks beautifully about how we learn as we live and the family and community are the biggest sources of learning. We as children used to interact so much with the extended family, the neighbors, and the society. This generation does not. The human aspect of life has just shrunk to nuclear families and our personal needs. We are closing ourselves off in tighter shells than ever before. This is required and accepted. To break away from this means going against the norms, questioning what is prevalent and finding our own niche under the sun.

As put by Yusef, we all have our own disaffections and activations in life. And all these stories prove this point. My disaffection started when I was in school and could never understand the relevance of whatever I was doing in school. But I still believed in collecting degrees before I could think of changing anything around me. My activation came when it was time for my child to go to school. I just couldnít put him through the stifling experiences both of us (Vishv and I) had gone through. What is most interesting here is each one of us questioned the system, and such a wide variety of answers came to different people. So what seems important is being able to identify and question what is disturbing the natural rhythm of life and humane-ness. What follows is so unique for each one of us and just great.

Moving from personal to social aspect of life, Kateís story explains processes in America that are very disturbing and are evident all over the world. Vivekís story takes us around Indian processes, which are very different. But what is strikingly similar in both stories is that they move towards same direction: how we as humans are unable to be objective and learn from our own mistakes and our fellow human beingsí experiences. The mad race for more, more money, more land, more resources, more materialism, more followers ó is the order of the day. And what means we adopt to achieve this, who bothers? Letís get it today by whatever means. If it means destroying earthís resources, so be it; if it means spreading hatred and destroying the social matrix in the name of religion and castes, so be it. Who has seen tomorrow? It was only yesterday that my son was sharing with me, "Mama, do you know, there is one billion tonnes of nuclear waste hanging in the space as a result of space projects. Where would all that go?" All that is beyond repair and looming large on our head. Who is responsible? Who is bothered?

All these stories present a promise, a hope. The only pre-requisite is that we are able to question the relevance of whatever is happening around us. If we can give our children the freedom to feel, to express, to say no, to do or not to do what they wish except for something that can be life threatening, to learn from their mistakes, this can lead them to the kind of freedom Zaid talks about. That can also lead more people to ask relevant questions, more disaffections, more activations, which means more unique and remarkable answers, leading to more positive input to the proceedings of this world. By the end of my journey, I feel, after all, the scenario isnít all that bad. There is still some hope left.