Schooled in kindness
Essential advice from an expert for educators and parents
In the week that I first read John Rosemond’s old column “Your Kids Should Not Be The Most Important In The Family", and the debate on parenting it recently rekindled on the online publishing platform Medium, I was also reading Shelja Sen’s Imagine: No Child Left Invisible. The contrast between the two could not be starker, though it may be unfair to compare a column about the failures of millennial parenting with a book on making schools more inclusive spaces.
The book, which Sen calls a manifesto, essentially aims to understand what happens when we send a child to school without making it all about the baggage of academics. It is an exploration of how a child learns to communicate, collaborate and explore in school. It’s a study of finding his/her own language as a result of the experiences gleaned from this space.
Sen uses the five Cs—Connect, Coach, Community, Care and Commit—approach from her previous book, All You Need Is Love: The Art Of Mindful Parenting (2015), to explain her concepts, so it helps if you come to Imagine having read the earlier work. What resonates is her explanation of how narratives and “dominant discourses" shape the lives of children. It’s something most of us do unthinkingly when we tell a child that they are good because they excel at studies, music or sports, and bad if they don’t. While we may not want to, we end up pigeonholing a child and their friends in our single sentence stories (you are lazy; at this rate you will not get admission in any college; good girls do not talk to boys), neatly creating labels and intangible limits without room for doubt, discussion or debate.
While swathes of Imagine will speak to teachers on the kind of impact their actions and words have on children, the scope of Sen’s theories has wider relevance. As parents, many of us come up with similar narratives that our children end up living with for the rest of their lives. At various points, the book forced me to look within and spot all the times I may have been guilty of scarring my daughter and conditioning her to think in a particular way.
Sen explains her concepts with the help of examples drawn from real life. One that resonated most with me was the idea of how validation or a kind word from a teacher goes a long way. As a troubled teenager, I remember being stopped on the staircase of my school and being asked by my English teacher if I was facing any difficulties—she told me she was always there to listen. Is it a surprise that three decades later, I still remember Mrs Gill, her kindness and how she helped bolster my spirit?
Sen is right in pointing out that while parents can praise their children to the skies, a teacher doing the same leaves a lasting impact. This is why she makes a strong case for teachers to work extra hard at creating emotionally strong spaces in their classrooms. As should the parents, at home.
If you are looking for pure parenting concepts, then this book is not for you. But if you want to understand, as a teacher, a parent, an active member of society and an educator, what may be done to improve the schooling system, Imagine is a must-read.