Eons ago, on a warm and humid July evening, a phone call changed my destiny. The call was for the role of a substitute teacher in an acclaimed school in the city where I then resided. Given the fact that I thought I knew my subject too well, I walked into the classroom as confident as a falcon in its flight. What followed over the next few days was nothing less than a pandemonium. As the yawns in my class grew louder and longer, my self-esteem seemed to be hit by a 200 km cyclonic storm at the realization of my inability to teach a group of 15-year-olds about the types of agricultural practices in India!
“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers,
or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
Thomas Jefferson
The walls of contempt and resentment could be heard on Twitter on the 13th night as The New York Times broke a story that triggered yet another American outrage in regards to the infamous president; Donald Trump, as he took a dig at journalists, post labeling them as the “enemies of the people”.
Decades later, and hundreds of lessons after, I now know what went wrong in those first few lessons of mine. Why would a bunch of 15-year-olds, living in an urban area ever be interested in learning about intensive subsistence agriculture? When we try to impart knowledge based on only facts, students fail to engage and develop personal intellect at a deep level. As Lynn Ericson often says, information without intellect is meaningless. Contextual learning creates intellectual depth in thinking and understanding and develops multiple perspectives.
Our Grade 7 students learn about religion being personal belief systems which may create unity or conflict. Every year, at the start of this unit, students only talk about how religion can be associated with conflict. However, after the trip to the caves of Ajanta and Ellora they realise that religious syncretism truly exists. Learning in context enables students to integrate the new knowledge and skills to pre-existing intellectual construct. And field trips at Neev provide opportunities for our students to create deep knowledge through experience, exploration and reading. Reading enriches experiences and in turn experiences
are enriched through reading. Reading is a human invention and Maryanne Wolf in her book, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain explains, “Our ancestors’ invention could come about only because of the human brain’s extraordinary ability to make new connections among its existing structures, a process made possible by the brain’s ability to be reshaped by experience.” As teachers, it is our endeavour to contextualise learning through promotion of reading associated with our units of study. Reading @ Neev forms an integral part of our existence.
A student of Grade 9, after reading a few pages of Sadhana, a repository of spiritual discourses by Tagore wrote, ‘Metaphors and phrases lost meaning and gained it all at once as Tagore’s words were making their way into my brain, and, unsurprisingly, tried to convince me of what I knew, but was yet to embrace.’ From the Purvanchal in the northeast to the Karakoram in the north, from the deserts of Kutch to the forests of Ranthambore, from the burning of the Amazonian rainforests to the 150 years of the periodic table of chemical elements, from the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 to repeal of
article 370 in 2019, a student at Neev is at the helm of it all, learning and making new connections and constructing meaning based on their own experiences and reading.

GOURI KAR
HEAD – MIDDLE SCHOOL

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