Thursday, July 31, 2008

Universal and Timeless Wisdom - Is it relevant today or is it a waste of time?

My last blog featured a letter by Abraham Lincoln to his son’s teacher.

I had read this letter many years back as a student and was struck by its simplicity but did not think too much about it. It came back as a flash yesterday and formed the basis of my blog.

It was very interesting to examine how many of these universal and timeless human values form part of our education system. Further, do these values have any place in our children’s upbringing today?

Without trying to sound cynical or pessimistic, I thought how practical, worldly wise and competitive parents would have written such a letter today.

He will have to learn, I know, that all men are not just, all men are not true and therefore teach him also that it is a big bad world out there; that every Politician is selfish, and there is a dedicated leader... who is only dedicated to his own interests….. Teach him for every enemy there is a friend who is one because it is in his interest to be so,

Steer him away from envy, if you can, but teach him the secret of quietly laughing at others and showing him superior to others.

Let him learn early that it is easy to be a bully and easy to lick the softie good guys. Teach him, if you can, that books are a waste of time... as everything is available on Google and Wikipedia. But also give him quiet time to ponder the eternal mystery of birds in the sky, bees in the sun, and the flowers on a green hillside with an once a year trip to a nature park.

In school teach him it is far more honourable to cheat than fail...
Teach him to have faith in his own ideas, or steal other people’s ideas if he does not have his own even

STOP IT!!!!! I could not continue beyond this as it is getting too negative for my constitution.

Is this reality today? – Yes, sadly though.

Our current times are hurried and intensely competitive. Success at any cost seems to be the motto. Our entire emphasis seems to be on mass producing literates and not on education. I had discussed some of these points in my earlier blog The Mad Annual Ritual.

The, almost manic, need to perform, fetish for perfection, obsession for topping the class and high marks, expensive coaching, crammed schedules, pressure of expectations seem to sum up a child’s journey through their school days.

This is followed by similar excesses in colleges. You juggle with college lectures, coaching classes for multiple entrance exams for professional courses.

Where are we heading? What is all this pressure going to achieve? What is the impact of all this on innocent minds? Does this constant emphasis on achievement create dysfunctional adults later?

These and many similar questions go through my mind.

I have seen enough of life to realize that spectacular success in school – college academic life does not necessarily mean successful human beings. More often than not we get to see very uni-dimensional adults. Such adults normally have low emotional and spiritual quotients and face burn-outs at a young age. It is also not uncommon for many such stars staring at an engulfing emptiness by their mid – late thirties.

I do not claim that I have understood this complex development in our society nor do I pretend that I have the solutions.

However, a few personal observations as a parent

- Stop getting obsessed with marks and ranks. There is more to life than just numbers,

- Do not thrust your unfulfilled ambitions on your children. They are unique individuals and will have their own thoughts, ambitions, likes and dislikes….

- Encourage all round development beyond academics. Let them develop a taste for reading, the arts, music, sports etc.,

- Emphasize on certain eternal values like respect for elders, courtesy, kindness, need to share, need to help, personal discipline etc.,

- Spend both “quantity” and “quality” time with your children. Nothing can justify your absence when they need you most for they will not be there when the world has turned its back on you….(sounds idealistic…it is not. If we try hard enough, there is enough time available),

This is not some quick fix DIY manual, but suggestions distilled out of life. I am sure there can be endless ways in which each one can make this journey of being a parent very rich and fulfilling


Vinod_Sharma said...

You know Mavin, in the intensely competitive world of today there are a whole lot of parents out there teaching their kids exactly what you have written in the 'practical' version of Abe's letter. This is as distressing a thought as the uplifting one that there are great parents like you around too who have not forgotten the good values.

The other comforting thought is that there never were too many Lincons ever, parents or Presidents. The vast majority were and, hopefully, are somehwere in the middle of the two extremes that you have highlighted.

Thank God for the few beacons who keep a lot of us on the 'right side of the middle and keep idealism alive.

Mavin said...

Thanks for your comment, Vinod!!!

Ours is to facilitate the development of our children and show the path.

Keep space for a congenial atmosphere and plenty of laughter and celebration.

The rest is how and what they make of their lives.

Krishnan said...

Wonderful post Mavin. I really liked your points regarding dealing with children. Obsession with marks is definitely a bane. It has been proven many a time that many a school topper have not really shone in their later day life. As you rightly emphasized, healthy respect for knowledge, spending quality time with children and respect for elders are very important than mere ranks and results.

Gopinath's "Artickles" said...

Good Parenting is getting to be tough today. In spite of various write-ups in mags, books on the subject, it continues to be an area needing improvement. If a child scores less marks, we find parents encouraging the child to tell an inflated figure (inflation here too? to their friends and relatives. Pretense is learnt faster than present tense and future tense. In a society which lays too much emphasis on marks. It is for all of us to learn to find good qualities in children who are under-achievers in context to the only score that seems to matter. It is for each of us to bring about this change.