By Bishop Duleep de Chickera
Schooling and education
Even though they overlap, there are some crucial differences between rigid schooling systems and education.
Rigid schooling prepares children for exams and qualifies them for employment. Education equips children with values and prepares them for life. Consequently, children schooled under a rigid system are likely to be content with routine. They accept the definition of situations by others. Those educated learn to look beyond.
Rigid schooling immerses the child in a world of information while education encourages the child to sift information for the truth. This is why rigid systems of schooling can easily manipulate children, and education cannot.
Rigid schooling is known to indoctrinate children. It tampers with history and repeats lies. Education, reminds children that unless they shape history, the forces behind indoctrination will eventually take over their world and their lives.
At their worst, rigid systems of schooling are created and exploited by tyrants to blunt and blur the obligations and responsibilities of citizenship. At its best, education awakens the child to a sense of belonging with all life, and the ensuing responsibility to strive after dignity and freedom for all life.
For very good reasons therefore, education cannot wait till rigid schooling saps the ingenuity and imagination of the child. It must take place alongside these systems, and one day replace them.
Ironically, the currently stifling pandemic opens the way to some possibilities in this daunting task.
The novelty of screen lessons fooled the immediate school community, for a while. Children enjoyed tinkering with technology, and parents were relieved that lessons minus the daily hassle of unyielding traffic, were a tap away. Principals were relieved that children and teachers were working, and that teacher salaries were justified.
Then, there were signs of exhaustion. The invaluable ‘face to face’ social encounter replaced by long hours of screen lessons, was taking its toll. As children’s minds wrestled with strange happenings, adult habit kept the school going; if not on the campus, in the home.
Few schools discussed the sudden social impact of the pandemic with their children. Neither was there adequate preparation for screen lessons. Adults incorrectly assumed that children, unable to naturally sit still in class rooms, would sit attentively for hours at screen lessons.
Typically, no one bothered with a feed-back. From bureaucrats to principals and parents, few stopped to observe what was happening to the most important person in the school; the child. Confused over a tiny germ that shut the world down, and bewildered with the concept of screen lessons, children withdrew or turned to more attractive screen options than math and history.
Hovering parents on the other side of the screen, did not help teacher confidence. Some parents crossed the line to contradict and embarrass teachers. But there were some advantages. Class room control, the bane of the timid or less-prepared teacher, was eliminated, and an opportunity was gained to correct the fussy child’s take home complaints. Some teachers succeeded in reversing parental judgement, others suffered the forbidden fate of their students; they failed.
Principals were also tested. Caught between hard pressed children, teachers, and parents and inflexible directors and boards, they were expected to keep a tedious system alive on screens the size of the palm. Tension weighed heavily in the heart of the ‘Head’.
Before long, the other schooling obsession; examinations, raised its head. While very few principals had the courage and foresight to contest this entrenched practice in defence of their children in distress, most went along with the system. No matter the social anxieties spread by the pandemic, no matter the additional stress it would cause children, exams had to follow lessons.
But this was not all. Examinations, framed to measure memory and knowledge, would now ensure child complicity before the screen. As a means of soft intimidation, screen exams were expected to prevent children from ‘switching off’, and parents rather than teachers, would have to see to this. As always, in rigid systems of schooling, the child paid the most.
The distress and estrangement that pandemic schooling has caused our children, must be the starting point, if we are to return to education. Consequently these realities demand attention.
Many children have become addicted to the screen, but not in pursuit of lessons. How are they to be helped?
All our children have lost the healthy ‘face to face’ peer encounters that are an intrinsic part of their growth; and in the case of adolescents two carefree and formative years of peer intimacy. How are they to be helped?
These heavy and uncertain days have robbed our children of their tendency and right to camaraderie, fun and play. How are they to be helped?
Screen lessons plus lock down plus agitated parents, have caused depression in some children. Pressed to do what children do not like to do, has suffocated the child. How are such children to be helped?
Children who have resisted screen lessons are not deviants. They could well be tomorrows’ thinkers. Informed and restless over the life threatening pandemic, they question the relevance of lessons that disregard the crisis. Such children may fail screen exams but they are a rare gift. How will these children be heard and helped?
One thing is certain in these challenges. To forget the diverse experiences of our children and treat them as if one size fits all, is the surest way of worsening the crisis.
Perhaps there is another certainty. If the mess in the procurement and distribution of vaccines is an indication of the impoverished quality and competence of our state administrators, we may not expect anything innovative from those at the helm of education. Even the few who look beyond, hold back for fear of disturbing the system.
What can be done to enhance our children’s education and growth, will therefore come from individual educationists, principals, teachers and parents with the courage to hear children and work together. That children themselves have a casual sense of wisdom that can enrich their own education is fast becoming a component in educational reforms. The slogan of differently-abled people, ‘Nothing about us without us’, is true of all excluded groups; very specially children.
Returning to school
a. An overview
Before children return to school a review of education must be done. You don’t wait for the next wave of the virus to order vaccines. This is the behaviour of the protected powerful.
The post pandemic world the child returns to will be different. It will be less free and more regulated. Unprecedented, unethical competition to undo economic loss will be at work, intensifying the plunder of Mother Earth’s generosity. Such unrestrained violence against our eco system, designed to feed the greed and extravagance of a few, is likely to provoke a Covid 20, to complete the havoc of its older sibling.
Consequently, post pandemic education will have to take note and introduce these widening trends into the curriculum, if our children are to learn to mitigate the dual genocide against the environment and humanity.
The natural care of the child for our eco-system plus her innate curiosity to question and probe, are invaluable resources in this task. Correspondingly, syllabi and class room dynamics will have to adjust to promote these gifts of the child towards her own education. Teaching skills and methods will have to fall in line and shift from lecturing to facilitation.
b. The immediate
The first month of schooling must avoid the routine school day plus piles of home-work. Instead, a Wednesday holiday with more intervals and a lesser number of half-hour periods, for the rest of the week, will ease cramped children and teachers into a fuller school day. A longer lunch break will also provide for social interaction and society activities.
The entire 2021 O/L batch should be passed, ideally without having to write the exam. These sixteen year olds have suffered unprecedented pandemic pressures and disruptions for nearly two years, and it would be cruel to expect them to work for public exams at a time when the most disciplined adult minds in the world are reeling. The prospect of failure, is the last anxiety that these adolescents should be put through.
Thereafter, six subjects for the OLs comprising, the child’s thinking language, a second language, mathematics, history-governance, science-environmental studies, and an aesthetic subject (singing, music, dance, debating/public speaking or drama) will be fair by the child and provide a balanced foundation for what must follow. Religion must be caught at home.
Assessments should comprise forty percent supervised assignments during schools hours for all grades. This will generate child interest and participation and reduce the agony of note transactions. Home work, at strictly one subject a day, should amount to material gathering (child research) for the next day’s assignments.
O/L results may be graded alphabetically. No child should be failed because no child is a failure. Any integrated adult; parent, teacher or observer, will testify to this universal truth.
How we deal AL courses and assessments and the near categorical impact it has on graduate studies, careers and socio-economic opportunities, especially for the financially modest, should be sensitively determined by insights gained in dealing with OLs.
The current pandemic revives the call for parents, whether bankers or daily wage earners, farmers or clerks, to participate more deliberately in the education of their children. The integrated growth of the child is far too important to be left to institutions, mostly.
This parental role is best approached through warm and informal family conversations. Interesting stories, snippets of history and the sharing of real life incidents catch the interest and feed the appetite of the curious child. Examples of humble and courageous role models known to the child, an uncle, a grandmother or a neighbour, create lasting impressions and values in the mind of the child.
Hard questions by unpretentious children will keep parents on their toes and demand interpretation of happenings in the family, school, and on our streets. As families learn that conversations are best when they are not adult conversations only, the potential of the child to form an opinion and enrich interactions and parents as well as wider circles beyond, will grow.
There is no better way for children and parents to learn about being equal and different than the inclusion of the child in conversations. As this develops, children and parents learn to disagree without breaking community, sift propaganda from truth and sense the harm that hate speech causes. Like in ethics, the democratic spirit is sown and caught in the home. Labels, creeds and definitions come later, to fetter what must remain free to roam and become.
Whether or not our rigid system of schooling will change, this remarkable, time-tested aspect of home schooling is our most indispensable and secure option for today, if education is to create free and fulfilled children for a free and integrated Sri Lankan family.
Celebrated designer Paco Rabanne dies aged 88
BBC reported that celebrated perfume and fashion designer Paco Rabanne has died aged 88 at his home in France.
His death was confirmed by Puig, the parent company of his brands, which said he had “marked generations with his radical vision of fashion and his legacy will live on”.
Rabanne gained global fame for his eccentric clothing designs.
MIDTERMS. REPUBLICAN RED TSUNAMI A PALE PINK PIDDLE
The Donald has a terrible day, blames everyone else.
by Vijaya Chandrasoma
November 7, 2022.
I am starting this essay on the eve of the most consequential Midterm elections in the history of the nation, on Tuesday, November 8, 2022.The tradition of trusting the results of an election is the cornerstone of any democracy, and the complete antithesis of dictatorships and authoritarian systems of government. North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un was recently re-elected to power with 100% of the votes cast.
This tradition was honoured twice, in recent times, in the USA. First, when Democrat Al Gore conceded the presidency to George W. Bush. The Republican majority Supreme Court overruled an order by the Florida Supreme Court to continue with recount of the votes of the state election, on grounds that the “safe harbour” deadline, set by federal law, by which states are required to resolve any disputes and announce the result, had passed. At that stage, before the recount was completed, there was a small majority in favour of George Bush. Gore accepted the decision of the Supreme Court and conceded the election.
It was also honoured in 2016, when Hillary Clinton conceded just hours after the Electoral College called the victory for Trump, despite widespread rumours, later proved by the Mueller Report, that the Russians had interfered with the election.Both Gore and Clinton won the popular vote, the former by over 500,000 votes, the latter by nearly three million.
This tradition has never been breached in the USA until 2020, when Trump refused to concede an election which he had lost by a landslide. He lost the Electoral College 306/232 and the popular vote by seven million votes, both considered to be conclusive defeats.
Trump and his minions alleged election fraud and filed over 60 cases before the courts, including three before the Republican majority Supreme Court. All were thrown out for lack of a shred of evidence. The Elections Commissioner of the United States stated that that “the presidential election of 2020 was one of the fairest in the history of the nation”. Even Trump appointed Attorney General William Barr, who had covered up for Trump on numerous occasions in the past, said that there was absolutely no evidence of any significant fraud which would have affected the outcome of the election.
The conventional wisdom over the past few weeks, is that the main issues facing the voters are the economy and inflation. The economy and inflation are global and temporary, felt everywhere in the world. Biden has done everything to ease the impact of a difficult economy caused by the increase of oil prices and the Russian invasion of a sovereign nation. However, Biden has been accused of not addressing these issues, and talking more about the threat to democracy, which is, to put it mildly, of a more permanent nature.
The polls have all but ignored the impact that will be caused by the probable destruction of democracy if the Republicans gain control of Congress. They have also lost sight of the opposition of 80% of Americans against the recent ruling of the Republican Supreme Court, overturning legislation which granted women reproductive freedom without government interference.
The Republican Party has openly promised that no Democrat will be ever elected to the presidency if they gain control of Congress. With their predicted majority in the House, Republicans have promised to rig the electoral process by ensuring that the counting of the votes in the battleground states that determine the result of the election, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Iowa, will always be controlled by Republicans. Which spells the end of USA’s Great Experiment.
I do not think that the House will go under Republican control with a majority of 30/50 seats, if at all. I feel (hope} that the Democrats will, against all odds, hold their tenuous majority in the House.So with the Senate. The current numbers are 50/50, which has given the majority to the Democrats with Vice President Harris having the casting vote. I predict the Democrats will retain control of the Senate, 50/50, or even flip a Republican Senator to bring the number to 51/49.
My third prediction is the most important: that Trump will lose his loathsome influence on the majority of the Republican Party. Trump has now become an anchor, not a crutch for the Republican Party, which will be shown by the defeat of the many candidates he has endorsed for this election. He will be seen by his own Party as a liability to be avoided at all cost.
Trump made an amazing but typical statement before the election, which makes sense only in the mind of a four-year-old. Talking about the many candidates he has endorsed in the midterms, he said, “If they win, I take the credit. But if they lose, it’s their fault!”. Heads I win, tails you lose.In any event, the Party in power in the last 36 years, led by Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump were all shellacked in their first midterm elections.The midterms serve as a bellwether of the administration in power. Their results do not usually affect the outcome of a President seeking a second term, as evinced by Clinton, Bush and Obama.
Only twice impeached Trump failed this test. He refused to accept his loss, although he knew that he had been conclusively defeated. A loss confirmed by the elections authorities, his so far sycophantic Attorney General, and unanimous rulings of the Supreme Court, which had a 6/3 Republican majority, with three Justices appointed by him.
A loss which has left him so narcissistically angry that he invented the Big Lie, that the election was stolen from him. He incited, using this Big Lie, on January 6, 2021, an insurrection to prevent the orderly, constitutional transfer of power to the legally elected president. Incredibly, this treasonous crook still walks free, retaining control of the cult which has become the Republican Party of today. Hopefully, after the current midterms, not for much longer.
I will end this section of the essay with an extract from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, of a conversation between Hobbits Samwise Gamjee and Frodo Baggins:
It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad has happened?
But, in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine the clearer…..
But, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in these stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.
That there is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.This passing thing, this shadow, this darkness, this threat to democracy will pass. There is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.
I will conclude this essay on Friday morning, when my partisan optimism would have been exposed. Though I am still hoping for an “I told you so!”
November 11, 2022
So my unlikely dreams have all but come true. Based on the latest numbers, Republicans are likely to win control of the House with a razor thin, maybe five or six, majority, though a Democratic win is still mathematically possible. The huge Red Wave predicted by the polls of Republicans flipping 30/50 House seats has proved to be a mirage. The current House score stands at 211/198 favouring Republicans, with 26 results to come. The magic winning number is 218.As for the Senate, the Republicans lead 49/48 with three elections, Nevada, Arizona and Georgia, still in the balance. Nevada is a toss-up, the Democrats are strongly favoured to take Arizona. In Georgia, Democratic incumbent Rev. Ralph Warnock leads Herschell Walker by a fraction of a point.
However, according to Georgia election law, a Senator has to win by 50% plus one vote to qualify for a Senate seat. As both candidates will probably not achieve this threshold (a Libertarian candidate has claimed 2% of the vote, acting as the spoiler), there will be a run-off between these two candidates on December 6, 2021. Which is the date the fate of Senate majority will be sealed. Currently, Rev. Warnock is the clear favourite to win that run-off, because Libertarian voters will almost certainly cast their votes for the Democrat.
At the conclusion of the December 6 Georgia run-off, the Senate will likely maintain the status quo of 50/50, a Democratic majority with the casting vote of Vice President Harris.But my third, and possibly the most significant prediction is being proved right. Many of the Republican candidates endorsed by Trump lost, others won in spite of Trump. His reputation as a kingmaker is severely tarnished, and the poor showing of candidates he endorsed at the midterms has just about ended his presidential aspirations for 2024. His grasp on the Republican Party also seems to have loosened.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, after a resounding gubernatorial victory in the midterms, has emerged as the front-runner for the Republican nomination in 2024. Although DeSantis is also a radical right Republican, Trump’s particular brand of narcissism, mendacity, ignorance, fraud, cruelty and treason, will be impossible to emulate. Thank heaven for small mercies.
President Biden continues to state that he intends to run in 2024, when he will be 82 years of age. We all hope that he will remain healthy and live to a ripe old age, but if he runs and wins the Presidency, he will retain the toughest job in the world up to the age of 86. And I can personally vouch that mental and physical faculties of octogenarians deteriorate by the day. I am 81 years of age, and I can’t remember if I have taken my meds today. I sure as hell would not know what to do with nuclear codes!
Biden had the best midterm election results on Tuesday since the 1990s. In perspective, Obama dropped 63 seats in the House and six in the Senate in his first midterms in 2010. He has done a fine job under difficult circumstances over the last two years, which will only become more challenging in the next two years with an aggressive, hostile House. I have no doubt he will continue to display the integrity and decency he has shown in decades of public service.
But perhaps it is time the Democratic Party started grooming younger, more aggressive candidates for the 2024 presidential election. There is no shortage of such eminently eligible candidates within the ranks. The names of Vice President Kamala Harris, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, California Governor Gavin Newsome and California Congresswoman Katie Porter immediately come to mind.
My personal favourite, New York Congresswoman, Alexandria Occasio Cortez, would barely have reached the minimum required age of 35 by November 2024. Her ideology and her vision are far ahead of her time. American time, that is. To most white Americans, she is just a “damn Commie”.
That she is, a Commie who works tirelessly towards a socially just economy which represents the standards enjoyed by citizens of all other developed nations in the world today. This election has convincingly proved that all elections in the future will be decided by young people, who voted in droves at the midterms. Ocasio-Cortez represents that generation.
Her time will come, when Americans finally realize that they are living in the 21st century.
*** I apologize for an error made in my essay last week about the British Prime Minister. Rishi Sunak was educated at Oxford at Lincoln College, not at Worcester College, as I have written.
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