Eight ways to stay foolish, stay hungry

Aditi Mathur and Ratnesh Mathur

Steve Jobs (co-founder Apple Computers) popularized this maxim in one of his famous speeches: “Stay hungry, stay foolish.”

More than to anybody else, we think, this maxim applies to us – teachers, facilitators, and parents; those of us who work with children.
Here are eight ways to stay foolish and hungry!

  1. A fool knows that the best people from whom to learn about children and how they learn are children themselves. But how can we learn if we think we already know? So we play the fool. We make the children believe that we do not know anything about them (which is actually true because children are constantly changing/evolving). To play the fool, we ask them simple questions about them. Questions such as, “What interests you?” “How would you like to do this?”, “What are you feeling right now?” and so on. The more we ask, the more we listen, and the more we listen, the more we learn. The more we learn about them, the more we become effective in facilitating their learning. You see, only a fool will ask children to facilitate them so that they can, in turn, facilitate the children.
  2. Fools also know that the best way to learn something is to teach it. Which is why they invite children to do the teaching. They do that either by showing that they know only little (even if they know a lot), or showing what they know is incorrect, or purposefully making mistakes (so that children correct them) or simply value the children’s status as higher than theirs by genuinely seeking their view of a certain piece of knowledge and valuing it. This definitely helps fools to widen their way of looking at a topic, especially getting the children’s perspective. Try this: Tell your children that what you are going to teach/say will have some errors and whoever finds the error will be called the goldminer (or whatever) of the day.
  3. Fools look beyond the obvious, act outside conventions, and hope beyond the expected. If we do this as teachers, we ignite the energies of children to enlarge and widen their knowledge, thinking skills, and learning. Isn’t that education? Any school or family can create a culture of allowing themselves to live beyond the boxes. It’s fun and super enterprising. Let’s say we spend 10 minutes in a day trying to prove that 2+2=5, or that the Earth is flat, or that reading backwards gives more meaning, or whatever you and your children can come up with.
  4. When someone is hungry they push. But when a fool is hungry he/she pushes without expectations and this combination of being foolish and hungry is amazing with children. You see children don’t mind being pushed. They love being pushed (given challenges). What they DO NOT like is the load of expectations that teachers and parents seem to have just because we are older! Someone once asked us how to give children consequences of their behaviour. We said we haven’t thought of consequences since 2002 when we started working with children. We push them to understand or figure the world out from their perspective and not to agree with our conclusions. We push them to create their own values and benchmarks. You see, we are persistent in both pushing them and in believing that children, like us, want to do and learn and achieve and live to their best.
  5. Most of us are not just hungry, we are hungry for variety. Obviously we do not want the same food every day. When teachers or parents ask us how we can be effective – we say search for a new way, or together as a class or family keep looking for new ways to do and learn something. To give an example, when Aarohi shifted to its new campus in 2013 we decided that every Thursday we will play a new game for our evening sports – something that we have never played before. Ten years later, over the last 400 or so Thursdays, whichever adult or child is responsible for the evening sports designs or brings up a totally new game. This hunger for variety satiates not just the intellect, but our belief in our own capabilities and ingenuity.
  6. A foolish fish says, I’ll swim upstream, for even a dead one can float with the current. Foolishly hungry fishes may not find anything new upstream, but it sure does something to them. People see going against convention as foolishness, but by doing so what we develop is strength and acumen. For example, we tell adults and children alike not to correct other’s spellings. Let them write the way they are writing. When they see another spelling in books or on the internet, they will automatically observe and exclaim, “Oh so that’s how the world writes it!”
  7. Fools are often rebuked as empty-headed. So be it. When we are empty (of notions, beliefs and knowing), we observe. Often, we observe carefully and find gems hidden from obvious view in between the flowing water and the rocks (actions and knowledge). We find understanding. We begin to understand children. We eschew labels, since we’re empty-headed. Rather, we chew on what we observe and this typically reveals ideas, which were hitherto unavailable to us. One child was universally and diagnostically categorized as hyperactive. We refused to accept this label. We kept ourselves empty-headed. We just observed him. We saw how he connected many things in his head as he moved from one object or action to another. We invited him to use these connections to make contraptions, stories, processes, etc. And he started to create!
  8. What else is there to eat?” asked the hungry. So “What else?” is what we too ask. What else is there to consider, to explore, to sample? What else is there to enjoy, to achieve, to celebrate? What else will fools do in such a situation? What else will make me even more hungry? What else can I be?

– What Else? –

The authors run Aarohi, an Open Learning Community for learners of all ages, open to all kinds of interests, abilities, styles, and content areas. Learning by doing what one wants, how one wants, and self-reflection. It is a community to co-live, learn and support each other. Aarohi’s campus is in a village near Hosur in Tamil Nadu (55 km from Bengaluru). To know more about Aarohi, visit https://aarohilife.org.

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