An Alternate Education

What curriculum does this school follow?” I asked.

We don’t have a set curriculum.” He said.

But….how do you know what to teach?” I enquired quizzically.

The kids tell us what they want to learn.” the guide revealed as he laughed.

During my recent trip to India, I got invited to accompany some friends to a village in India. We were visiting a community-based cooperative of disadvantaged women who were locally trained to make a wide range of organic products from their homes. While on this trip, I chanced upon a school in that same village that provided schooling for local, national and international students. As we got a guided tour of the school, I felt transported to another world where education is an experience and not just a business.

The school itself is set on about 10 acres of farmland in a small village in south India, away from the hustle-bustle of the city life. The school has been ergonomically built with eco-friendly materials like mud, cow dung, straw, clay, and stone. They have worked with a variety of construction methods to limit the ecological footprint of the construction and functioning of the building. Cavity walls have been used to aid in the natural cooling of the classrooms. The classrooms are spacious and bare allowing for students to sit wherever they want to. As we walked around we noticed terracotta sculptures on the walls, cows grazing, students planting saplings with their bare hands, barefooted kids running around kicking ball, and students taking a field trip to the local market to learn about a product distribution system.

The most wonderful aspect of this school is that it does not conform to any set guidelines whatsoever. There are no grade levels and students are grouped into levels based on their ability and progress. Students also get to decide what they want to learn under the guidance of the teachers. Majority of the instruction is very hands-on. For example – Students set up a shop on the school grounds to learn about math concepts. They start with real-life scenarios and move to abstract scenarios as they progress through the concepts. A 6-7-year-old might start by drawing a map of the classroom and then graduates to drawing a map of the school, village, city, state, country and so on. Students also get to spend time on the farm, actively participating in agriculture and animal rearing. They also take a day off every week to spend time on a nearby mountain learning about the flora and fauna and sometimes just meditating. Students also help make lunches for the school from produce completely grown on the farm. Much importance is also given to arts, crafts, and physical education.

The atmosphere in the school was by far the happiest and most interactive that I have ever seen in my life as an educator. Students seemed genuinely happy to be in school and we could hear learning in all the loud chatter among the students. We also chanced upon a class with no teacher and yet students were busy working on a project by themselves.

The tour of the school brought to light the philosophy of what schools should be based on. This school had a solid philosophy in ensuring that learning is fun and interactive for students. Their mission was to bring ‘learning’ as close as possible to the ‘living’ and by the looks of it, I can truly say that they have been more than successful.

What we need today is more schools like this that creates learning experiences for the children and an atmosphere that encourages their natural curiosity. It might be an alternate way of educating a child but it’s time to put our thinking hats on and maybe take this model of instruction mainstream.

As we ended the tour I asked our guide, “What about tests, assessments?” We have none he said. I prodded him further, “What about the standardized tests, what tests do the students take to qualify for college?

He explained, “Students decide which form of assessment they want to take when they feel ready for it. We never tell them what to do.

 

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That Intentional Act

News and social media have been inundated the last couple of weeks with news about two celebrity suicides, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Not to forget Avicii, Verne Troyer, and Robin Williams. You may have been one of the many people who might have reflected with others or yourself about these unfortunate incidents. I did too! While my reflections with others were more about why the particular celebrities might have taken that drastic final step, my own thoughts were poignantly more internal. In the deaths of all above celebrities, depression was a major cause, all having suffered from serious depression for years. What then about seemingly healthy, ordinary people who commit that one intentional act that calls curtains to life itself?

My thoughts took me back to those times when I felt so low, that the unspeakable crossed my mind. Over conversations with some of my close friends, they shared about how they also have experienced those lows when they lose hope and feel like ending it all. As you Screen Shot 2018-06-09 at 5.02.50 PMread this, maybe you also in your life have those moments when you felt THAT defeated. So what kept us alive? Me to write this and you to read this?

Talking from my own experiences I would say the first and foremost factor is:
1. Family and friends: The support system you have is a huge factor that keeps hopes alive. They are the first ones to shoot you down when you do something wrong but they are also first in line to pick you up after they are done butchering you. They stand by you like guardian angels and are first to read any signs of depression.
2. A soul twin: Everyone should have that one person that you share everything with. More would be fine too! This is the person who can judge your mood by the way you say ‘hello’ and will be the quickest to ask you ‘what’s wrong?’. I am lucky to have a few of those in my life and you should get one too if you don’t have any. They can be that difference between life and death in those crucial moments. I thank them from my heart, for being with me during some rough times.
3. Purge: Yes, something as simple as that can save your life. Getting rid of unwanted stuff in the house to people in your life is very important. If your house is cluttered and unorganized, you will reflect the same. An airy, open, clean, house transmits healthy thoughts and helps in your overall mental health. Similarly, if you have people in your life that cause you constant pain, its best to keep them at a distance. These are not necessarily bad people but maybe the association is not working and it’s time to purge.
4. Hobby: Remember those silly hobbies you had as a child? I went through the stamps, coins, matchbox (this one was fun because I was actually picking trash off the roads to the shock of my poor mother!) to a more sophisticated shot glasses today. Yes, they were and still are a silly hobby but it’s these infinitesimal acts that make one happy. Keep the child in you alive and look for something extraordinary in the prosaic world around you.
5. Passion: This one is more difficult and could actually be the savior and the cause leading up to that last act. It takes years to figure out what we are passionate about and many never do. Having something to look forward to every day, can make a difference in how we look at life. Likewise, many people feel depressed with the lack of a passion and are known to be the major cause of suicides in youth. What people need to understand here is that it’s okay not to cognize what your passion is; that clarity will come when you are ready. Until then, we can always rely on our hobbies. There are still many matchboxes left to be picked off the roads!

That intentional act carries no specifications and afflicts the rich, poor, famous, infamous, intellectuals and more. It is up to you to protect yourself from feeling so hopeless that it would seem like there was only one path left to travel. Surround yourself with people you love and love you back! Never let a stumble in your life be the end of your journey. And if you ever find you reached the end of the road, call someone or call me! I may not have solutions to your problems but I will be happy to listen 🙂

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Compassionate Goals

A few years ago, I had set a simple enough goal to pursue my photography interests. The goal included taking lessons, reading books, go on shooting tours etc. It started off pretty well in the form of me dropping a few grand on the latest camera and its accessories. I enrolled in a class and even joined a local photographers club to get some tips and also gain inspiration from their interests. But, the excitement didn’t last long. The list of excuses was long. The class was on a day that clashed with a party, the weather was too cold to venture out with a camera, the camera equipment itself was too heavy to lug around, so on and so forth! I failed. The equipment is still a reminder of a goal unfulfilled.

People set goals all the time but what is the driving force behind that need. We set goals to make our lives more positive, fruitful and/or dynamic. Shedding a few pounds, quitting that stubborn smoking habit, increasing the bank balance, or learning a new language might have been a goal on your list, but how successful were you? People often find it difficult to stick to their goals and give up somewhere along the way, just like I did.

So, I had to sit back and think.

Where did I go wrong?

Was it a bad goal to begin with?

My goal was not wrong but my approach was wrong.

I set a destination without creating a roadmap on how to get there. I didn’t give myself the right tools to help me get there. I was depending on my strong willpower and my ability to rationally process and stay away from temptations. That was not helping. I was fighting every day against something very innate. My mind was constantly fighting for me and it was getting so exhausting that I had to quit. Some researchers reveal that we all get Decision Fatigue – our brain gets tired after deciding all day. In the case of goals and resolutions, the decision to do or not to something constantly can be daunting. So, in the end, not only was I dejected that I quit, I also felt miserable for spending all that money on my goal.  

Why did I fail?

I realized I was being insensitive to who I was. I did not take into account some of my responsibilities, obligations, and restrictions that would keep me from fulfilling my goal. I don’t live in Utopia. I needed to be more pragmatic and compassionate towards myself. It was important to set goals within the parameters of my everyday life. My goal cannot be the overarching principle by which I will be governed for the rest of my life. I should have put some more thought into setting that goal.

So, I changed the way I went about setting goals.

Last year, my goal was simple but nevertheless I was risking failure until I reevaluated and modified the goal to be successful. My goal was simply to make more of an effort to talk to some long forgotten friends. In this digital age, it is easy to rely on canned responses and lose that personal touch. I wanted to make an effort to reconnect with people at a personal level.  The small step I took was to call people on their birthdays to wish them as opposed to wishing them via a text message. It was not so simple! The good calls were easy. Many of my aunts, cousins were happy to hear my voice and that I remembered their birthdays.  It made my heart feel good. I gained more from those conversations.

But it wasn’t all that easy. The difficulty was calling people I had ignored or forgotten over the years. It felt acerbic to call them out of the blue and I struggled to build the courage to dial some numbers. I was failing. I started to make excuses to not call certain people.

So I paused and looked at my goal again.

Ultimately what do I want to gain from this exercise? I wanted to feel good after personally conversing with long lost friends and family. So why put myself through the agony of talking to people I don’t want to?

I needed to be pragmatic and compassionate with myself. So I modified my goal, to calling long lost friends but not everyone on my contact list! I had to relieve myself of the stress of having to talk to people I didn’t want to. After all my goal was to stay connected with people I love. By not being too stringent and by modifying my goal, I was able to make it more achievable.

This year I added another goal to my basket. This is not an original thought but borrowed from a conversation with a friend, who talked about bursting closets in her house and the resolve to stop buying new clothes. It was a very novel idea. I am married to a shopaholic man and I am no less! At a time when our kids are getting closer to leaving home for college and we think about downsizing, we seem unable to stop ourselves from hoarding. Especially now that you can lounge in your PJs on a couch and order the world with just a click of a mouse. So, I tested the waters by suggesting an idea to abstain from personal shopping for this entire year with the husband and surprise, surprise – he concurred!. It’s been over a month now and we haven’t shopped for any personal item so far, no clothes, no bags, no shoes and no accessories.

It has not been easy. We do get a lot of catalogs with beautiful clothes on perfect people and then there is that special Uggs that I always wanted that just went on sale and that green colored skirt that was missing from my wardrobe and so on. I just breathe. Draw in my patience and ask if I really need it and if I have something else I could manage with instead. So far the answer has always been yes, so it wasn’t that difficult to walk away. We also help each other by making sure we don’t go weak. We do that by shaming the other for being so weak and asking for bragging rights for the rest of the year!

I am not sure if we can keep it up all year but that’s where my pragmatism and compassion will come into play. I will just reevaluate and tweak my goal. The desired outcome here is not about putting a stop to all spending but to stop being a frivolous spender and to really think before wasting all that money; but if there is something I really need, I will let myself have it!

To sum it up –

As you embark on another new year, take stock of the goals you have set. Start by looking back at your past successes and failures. Set a goal that matters to you, and will make you love yourself more. Don’t be so harsh on yourself that you get exhausted fighting for yourself. Make a roadmap that will lead you to the finish line. This could be the smallest step you take for yourself but the biggest that could change your life. So, tiptoe if you must, but go ahead and take that step.

Remember to be compassionate, forgiving and considerate!
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Learning To Say NO!

Growing up there was a story that was read to me in school called; ‘The giving tree’. The book follows the lives of a female apple tree and a boy, who develop a relationship with one another. The tree is very “giving” and the boy evolves into a “taking” teenager, man, then elderly man. In the final pages, both the tree and the boy feel the sting of their respective “giving” and “taking” nature. When only a stump remains for the tree, she is not happy, at least at that moment. The boy does return as a tired elderly man to meet the tree once more and states that all he wants is “a quiet place to sit and rest,” which the tree could provide. With this final stage of giving, “the Tree was happy”. It was shared in various other Indian folklore forms, even by my grandmother and the moral was the same. The moral of the story glorified helping someone in need. It perpetuates the myth of sacrificing, selfless life as the only way to true happiness. The values were instilled in every listener that being selfless and to always ‘give’ is a good character trait to inculcate and we should all strive to be like that.

Well, THAT was the most insane advice I have ever received and unfortunate that I believed it and followed it for a long time.

Today, I sit back and think about the big question, “How much help is too much help?” and “Is it ok to say no?”. I struggled with both for a long time because I had a problem with saying ‘NO’ to people. On the rare circumstances that I did manage to say no, I would be ridden with guilt. I would think, rethink and work myself into a frenzy that I was this selfish person, who didn’t help a friend in need.

With time came self-awareness and with it came self-realization. Yes, giving is good but one should only give without hurting their own self. If you end up hurting yourself in the process, then you are not doing any good to either yourself or the other. You end up disrespecting your own individuality by saying no to your body, mind and soul, by saying yes consistently. Sometimes helping others is more of your own need than the need of others. People feel a sense of purpose, a sense of achievement by helping others. They feel valued.

Analyze the guilt that comes with saying ‘NO’. If you have done enough, or you are tired, or incapable of doing more, then there is nothing wrong in saying NO. There is no point in exhausting your body, mind or finances by going beyond your capacity to help. If your conscience is clear, you should not feel guilty. You are just taking care of yourself before you take care of another. Understanding one’s own capacity and limitations is very important. Let your conscience be your guide. This is not easy because sometimes, it’s hard to distinguish between ego and conscience. It takes time to differentiate between the two and if you are unable to do it, there is nothing wrong in seeking help from someone who can guide you well. Raise your self-awareness so you can discriminate between the two. This is the most valuable skill you can learn.

Today, I still find myself helping anyone in need but when I do say no, I don’t feel guilty. My conscience is clear and I have no reason to believe that I have somehow failed or abandoned the person in need. There are a million other people in the world that could help them and someone who is more capable than me will step up and take my place.

Life will go on for all even after I say NO.

Epilogue: I was googling a picture about ‘The giving tree’ to add to my blog and I came upon an article about the actual book. It went on to say that it is a very divisive book. TheScreen Shot 2017-11-07 at 9.51.22 AM controversy concerns whether the relationship between the ‘giver’ and the ‘taker’ is positive or not. It goes on to argue that the ‘giving tree’ is not really selfless and that the boy is actually ‘abusing’ the good nature of the tree.  Now they tell me!

 

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Regrets, Mistakes and More

Another school year has ended and as part of my yearly ritual, I sat down to reflect upon the year gone by in general, the mistakes, the lessons and regrets. But before I could answer that question to myself, I was stumped at the question itself. How does one define a mistake or a regret? I did what any hardworking researcher would do. I asked around! I got various replies and here is a summary of the responses.

Mistakes are actions done in haste, or  an error made in judgement, poor reasoning, calculations or plain carelessness. It is something you would not repeat if you had the maturity and growth you do today.

Regrets make you sad. They could be something you did or didn’t do because of a decision you made. It’s a disappointment, a sorrow, a yearning or remorse.

Lessons are what contribute to growth and maturity. It’s the learning that happens over time and what you carry as you move on.

All three can stand independently or coexist with each other. It depends on the situation and the issue.

Over the last few days, I have had many exciting conversations with family and friends about their thoughts on regrets and mistakes and surprisingly, most found it very difficult to answer the question. It is one of those things that just sits at the back of your head, you never think about but important enough to revisit every decade or so. A self-assessment if you can call it so. Talking to people about this topic, gave me a deeper understanding of most of them, and in some cases helped people understand their own selves better.

When I look back at my own life, there are many mistakes I have made and I have learned from every single one of them but I don’t think I truly regret all of them. They have all contributed to making me who I am today. Yes, I am blessed that none of the mistakes were scarring but they definitely changed me for the better. Regrets are few and I have always tried not to have regrets in life. It is just my personal motto. Even if it is as simple as regretting walking away from that beautiful dress on the mannequin which was priced too high… or as complicated as wanting to choose a different education path, it is something I have tried to minimize in life.

In my own assessment I would say, it was a mistake to get into engineering when my interests were more creative. It did nothing to me other than give me a college experience and be a springboard for my future masters and career. It was a mistake getting married at a young age and I wish I had a few more years behind me before I took that big plunge. I would have definitely had a much smoother landing into wifehood and motherhood if I had some more maturity.

I do regret not working for a couple of years before I got married. That experience would have done wonders to my confidence and I would have been more responsible for my own actions and decisions (now I just blame my mom for everything!). I regret not learning how to play a musical instrument, I feel I would have been good at it and it’s sad that I never attempted to do that. And then there are those smaller regrets that come from being immature, at how you handle people and life. These are regrets that have turned into lessons and now I know what not to do. Regrets of leaving people hurt or being insensitive to their stories. These are the sorrows you carry in your heart, hope for time to heal and a lesson to never do it again.

Regrets, mistakes, lessons and more are a part of growing up. The more you age, the more regrets and mistakes you have to talk about and you have just as many lessons learned from all of them. They are all just a bitter-sweet part of life!

So take some time to introspect and understand yourself. What do you consider as mistakes in your life? What regrets do you carry forward? And what are some million-dollar lessons you learned from life that has made you who you are today?

 

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Laws Of Attraction

Recently I watched a documentary that claimed to have the secret to  having a life that one wants. It was a very simple secret, something which most know but don’t apply it or don’t believe in. It talked about how your positive thoughts have the power to attract a positive world around you and likewise, negative thoughts would cause bad things to happen to you. In short, you will attract what you are feeling right now.

Whatever happens to you is because it’s what you wanted. It maybe something you really don’t need but by thinking about it constantly, you are willing it to happen. So if you think you are going to fail in an exam, you will because thats the kind of energy you are creating around you. If you think you will get a promotion, because you deserve it and you start feeling good about it, you will get that promotion. That positivity will make it happen. You even reading this blog is because something in you attracted you to this. There is a message here that you needed to read.

A few weeks ago, I remember watching an episode on Seinfeld which talked about how everything evens out for Jerry. He loses 10 dollars and he finds 10, he gets dumped by a girlfriend and another comes by. So I was wondering if that is true for everyone. During that week, I had ordered a pair of uggs and when they got delivered, it turned out to be a tad too tight. The store wouldn’t take it back since it was from the clearance rack. So while I was wondering how to even out my loss of over 200 dollars, the universe played its role. A friend bought those shoes from me for 50% of the price, I found a $100 note in a forgotten old bag and I got a $100 check from my college because someone joined from my recommendation! So in just a weeks time, I had evened out, actually profiting from what I thought was couple of hundred down the drain.

So how do we attract this positive energy? Here is a simple step by step process:

  1. Relax your mind and body: Meditate for a few minutes and just focus on your breathing.
  2. Write down what you want: As silly as it sounds, take a pen and actually write down in your neatest handwriting, what you actually want. If you are clear in your thoughts, the universe will also be able to understand your needs and will grant it easily.
  3. Ask the universe: Think of the universe as a ‘Miracle lamp’ that can be rubbed many times and will grant you infinite wishes. So ask. If you want a car, visualize yourself in that car driving it. If you want love, visualize being with that person and enjoying happy moments.
  4. Write a thank you note: Thank the universe for granting you the wish, even though you haven’t received it yet. Imagine you have it and are enjoying it. Express your gratitude.
  5. Feel it: This is the most powerful step. You have to actually feel and believe you have what you wanted. This is the one step that will generate that power to grant you what you want.
  6. Show gratitude: Think of all those past issues you had a few months ago that brought you down but now is non-existent. Thank the universe for removing those obstacles. Motivate it to give you more.
  7. Keep faith: This is the most difficult of all. Trust that the universe is going to grant you your wish. If you question it at any point, you are again attracting negative energy. Your wish might be granted in a day or a week or a month, you have to keep faith regardless.
  8. Be happy: Remove the negative people in your life. Let go of the ones that make you unhappy. Start your day with happy thoughts. Read a funny joke. Watch funny movies. Stay away from stuff that depresses you.
  9. Make a collage: Create a visual of everything you want and look at it everyday. Cut out pictures from magazines or photographs of what you want. Make that your motivation.
  10. A pocket full of happiness:  Store a pocket full of happy memories and whenever you sense a negative thought creeping close, pull a happy thought out. Drive the negativity away. Do fun things. Sing a song, paint a picture, play with your pet, look at happy people, etc. (Look at the pictures below)

These are some simple guidelines to train yourself to get the universe to work for you. If you have had recent moments of euphoria, think about it as much as you can, in as much detail as you can. You will attract more such episodes into your life. If you constantly think about the failures in life, you are inviting more such misery into your life. Use positive words and phrases. Avoid negations. Instead of saying, “I don’t want to get sick” say, “I am healthy and happy”.

So try this mantra. Make a wish for what you want and actually see it happen. These are the laws of attraction. It’s a science and it will happen!

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A Rape Of My Sensibilities

She is not just India’s daughter, she is everybody’s daughter! She could be somebody’s sister, mother or friend. And more importantly, she has an identity of her own, an existence to which she has a right to live in any way she chooses to. This is not about one family’s cry for justice for their daughter, it is about those millions of families who have lost a girl to the brutality of men and those countless girls who never got to tell their story and relive the nightmare everyday of their life.

There has been much uproar about the BBC documentary ‘India’s Daughter’, many views, discussions, controversies and investigations. There is a deeper message to all this. It’s not about who made the documentary, it’s not about how she gained access to the convicts, it’s not about how much of the story was embellished and not even about the girl herself. This is about all those girls in the world who have been raped, this is about the muted society that watches in disbelief and does nothing, this is about the people who say they have the right to dictate terms about how women should run their lives and this is about all the people who try to move the focus from a burning issue to controversies around it. It was shocking to hear the convict say ‘Girls should be submissive so as to avoid getting killed’. More appalling was the statement by the lawyers who said ‘Girls should not be outdoors in the late evening hours or that he would set fire to his daughter if she was out with a male in front of his family’. Who are these people?? These men who are supposed to be the protectors of law, don’t believe in human rights, let alone women’s rights. How can we hope to be protected when the thinking of the lawmakers is so retarded? Who is the bigger culprit here? The society that breeds such people or the law that’s lacks in protecting its people.

The focus needs to be on the issue itself. Many girls are being raped in the world every single day. The top ten countries with a high rape crime rate are: Lesotho, Trinidad & Tobago, Sweden, Korea, New Zealand, United States, Belgium, Zimbabwe and United Kingdom. India features in the top 15 list.  This is the most under reported violent crime in the world. The stigma associated with it is another rape by itself of the individual. The laws that are supposed to protect people around the world are very flimsy. Some countries with low rape crime rates are Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Yemen, Indonesia and Armenia. This data is by no means conclusive because not every rape gets reported. There are many who stay hidden in the shadows of shame.

Change begins at home, change can be small. Parents need to have open conversations with their kids.Students in schools should be encouraged to speak up about physical violations. They need be taught to be comfortable reporting abuse as they would a robbery. There also has to be a call for change in-laws. These issues need to be dealt in fast track courts. There needs to be specialty lawyers who are educated/trained specifically in these issues. We need to look at other countries that are doing it right and look at what we can adopt from them. Society needs to step up and not be the passive bystander. If you see a crime happening, stop it, report it, and don’t run from it. We need to stop looking for a messiah to come save us, we need to stop pointing fingers, we need to step up and be the change we want to happen. Every person is crucial, no one is inconsequential, so stop waiting for someone to fix the issue. Every courageous deed is important and put together one day we will see a safer world for everyone.