Independence and agency

editorial It’s a ritual in most schools; hoist the flag, sing the national anthem and a few other patriotic songs, listen to a few speeches (boring or inspirational or neither, just forgettable), distribute and eat sweets, and go home for the rest of the day. We may turn on the television to catch recorded replays of the Prime Minister’s speech or to listen to the current favourite talk show where sundry notables are airing opinions on how far India has come or not come since 1947.

Most years I manage to attend the Independence Day event at two schools in Hyderabad. Both are small schools, outside the mainstream but quite different from each other. Centre for Learning is a small alternative school with less than a hundred children, representing different economic and social backgrounds and Ananda Bharati caters to girls from disadvantaged backgrounds, many of whom work or care for younger siblings during the morning hours. Ananda Bharati therefore runs from 2 to 5 in the afternoon. There is a similar spirit suffusing the children’s performances at both schools. Songs chosen by the children, short skits on themes ranging from the environment to issues from their immediate context of school and home, and short talks by the children on different aspects of citizenship in a free country. It’s a deeply felt participation in what to many of us has become a habit. And for many of these children, the entitlements granted by independence are still a dream. Having reminded themselves briefly about what freedom should mean and how it could be lived, they go back to lives constrained by poverty and powerlessness, the schoolroom being the only space where they can experiment with being who they would like to be.

But another thing stands out at both schools; it is the number of people who come back, year after year, to enjoy the opportunity for fellowship that such days bring. Old students, teachers who have moved on, friends and families who have been associated in some way. And it strikes me that this is a growing community of practice – people who share values and a common general purpose, people who believe that another kind of society is possible. That’s essentially what the inspired school and the effective teacher do – build communities of practice.

So moving on, from Independence Day to Teachers’ Day, I believe that we need to set aside the sense of ritual and adopt one of enthusiasm. It’s okay if our day to day activities seem to make no difference. We must believe that over time, we do succeed with at least some of the many children we work with. They become nodes of change themselves, and many years later the ripples around the nodes will begin to be felt. They will, each of them, engender their own communities of practice. Based on values and ideas you have given them, through your teaching, your showing, your very being.

Happy Teachers’ Day!

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