Schola ludus, school trough play, is the concept of Jan Amos Komensky, czech writer, thinker, philosopher, educator from the end of the 17th century. Oh yes, the concept is much older then Montessori or Waldorf. I found it in yoga.
In yoga philosophy, the “armchair yoga” (just to sit and read the scriptures) is poor of the sense, the same as we can practice asanas for years and not see the beginning of the personality development, staying limited in our body. Practice and study are going together, one without other is nothing. Or to live what we learn and find our own answers is something that is disappearing from our schools.
Where is the concept today in the school of my kids? I cannot really find it. They spent the day between french and irish school, in small classes full of kids (25 even more), in blocks that last 45 minutes but without at least 5 minutes between them to change the class… To go from one to other, they loose at least 5 minutes, to get ready for the next subject, they loose another 5, and, as it happen systematically with some teachers punishing them for being late, keeping them 5-10 minutes on the top…well, they are really having 30 minutes for one subject! How to handle the deficit of the school time? By homework, of course. Often long, tedious, lacking true purpose and definitely lacking the creativity.
There is no time for relax, there is not air for breath, and there is hardly time for play. I am upset with my kids to spend the time on computer game or on FB, but as adults we do similar things to “empty our brain”. We escape from the reality because we are not aware that it is just escaping.
When the kids miss the class (sickness, orthodentist…ah, orthodentiste. Do you know that he works only from Monday to Thursday and exactely the same hours as the school day???), or they don’t understand the concept, it is rare that the teacher propose to explain out of his school hours. “Ask your friends and copy the class”, or, “parents will explain“. The teacher’s job is limited to his 45 minutes, actually 35, per class, correct the written work,prepare the classes for the next day. This probably why the french teachers teach only 18 hours per week (less then kids spend listening to them at school). They work home, at least double. I cannot blame them not to give more from their time and get more creative in their teaching approach. The system is not encouraging difference, the system put the kids in the box, same for everybody,. If you are not in, you are out. The system is good for “normal” kids, as I was told. Define normal… I was wondering, but I had the answer from the most representative persone: french president. He was elected as he present himself as NORMAL president. And the french people voted for.
There is another reason why I cannot be upset with the teachers: their salary. I am not sure if many people would give their best for 20.170 euros brut per year! (source: ‘Education at a Glance, OESO, 2010’, septembre 2010) Did we realize that teachers are educating kids of today, but the leaders of tomorrow? This is who we appreciate the work they do? Maslow triangle of Hierarchy of Needs os quite clear: how we can expect the teachers to take care about the self-esteem, self-realization of our children if themselves their are struggling on the safety level?
Now, we all have a purpose in our life. How many of the teachers are aware of theirs? Observing different schools, and different systems ( I’ m in 5th school in last 15 years), there is always those that are living what they are doing…and others, being definitely in the wrong place. Not only they suffer, but they make suffer the kids. Unhappiness is contagious on all levels.
What really make me sad as a yoga teacher, is the fact that the french school system rest on the “negative feedback”. It is rare that the teacher says: great job! Bravo! The most of feedback are about the mistakes and what should be done more and better. Even the greatest race horse will fall dead of exhaustion if the final line is always pushed further and further. In yoga, we learn to welcome our errors and falls, because this is how we learn. But we need the time to understand this concept and stop to beat us for “what we did wrong”.
We are all happy to hear some encouragement and appreciation of our effort. Even as a yogini I will not hide to be happy when the students come to thank me or my teacher congratulate me for the effort or new realization. I’ m working on keeping equanimity in the prize and in the critic, but I would lie if I say my ego is not pleased by the apreciation of my work. With a lot of learning trough suffering I can be aware that the opinions of others are not what determine my value as a person, because, as my teacher taught me, my self-worth is no negotiable. Now, I think I am not wrong to say that the most of the children have not yet this capacity, and most of the adults neither. As a yoga teacher I am working mostly withwomen, but also few executives – men, and there is one issue common to all, the lack of the self love. We spend our tender age and our teens age and our young age listening that we are not good enough…then we spend years on the divan of psychologist or, my version, on the yoga mat, to find out that I m feeling crap because I don’t love myself. But how to love and appreciate myself if I spent years to listening: you can do more, better, faster? Why at school the mistake is considered as something to avoid, something we penalize, instead to take it as a great learning tool? Why not to say: “Hey, here, this is where we can work on something!” instead: You did wrong?
In India, the Teacher, Guru, and disciple, Shishya, have very special relationship and way of learning. Upanishad, the scriptures of yoga philosophy, means literally upa-sitt nearby, and nishad means listen and learn. Upanishad means so that the student is sitting near of his teacher and listen and learn from the spiritual experience of his master, that the master himself had from his guru. The student has absolute faith in the teaching of his Guru, and the Guru is devdicated to the guidance of his shishya. The disciple is not learning only from his master says (he often says little), but from the way the master lives, from observance, surrender and his own experiences. Guru is not giving to the student what the student want, but what the guru consider the student needs.
As parents we know that we educate by example and we know also that we cannot give to our children all what they want, but yes what they need. I know I cannot scream on my kids: “Don’t scream”, because my very own behavior is in the opposite of my demand. Same for teachers. How they can expect kids to respect them, if they don’t respect the kids? In the guru-shishya there is choice, mutual respect and love. There is also total trust and surrender. It will be difficult to ask the same from school teachers and kids, but the mutual respect and the partnership in the learning process are necessary. I am learning as much from my students that they learn form me, and I believe that the school teachers can learn from their students too.
My son loves matemathincs. The result is often correct, but his grades are poor. Why? Because he is not respecting the french form and way of finding the result. Form is superior to the content. This is how we discourage the originality and creativity of thinking. We produce the muttons, all the same. In yoga I teach there are many path to the same realization; well, in school the path has to be the same for everybody.
There is another problem in the expat french school that I observe for years: parents. Most of them, being expats, did themselves solid studies. Most of them have very clear vision of the greatness of their kids (I am in this category myself, of course!), and most of them have the kids as the purpose of their expat lives (because moms are not working, so they confuse their identity and their value with the school results of their kids, oh , maya!). They spend a lot of time criticizing the teachers and knowing better how to teach and what their kids really need. Well, they are mostly right, but they are missing the objective. It is not the problem of the teachers (being products of the system themselves), it is problem of the system.
It can go far. Very far. The few discontent parents can put together the witch hunt against the teacher because he is not corresponding to what we expect. Nobody will see him directly and find the solution and understanding face to face. We will make it nicely behind the back of the teacher, making letters and emails, and exclude from the scoop all parents that refuse to take the part in the lynching. There will be meeting just with the few unhappy and very angry parents with the teacher, where he will be alone face to hungry lions. And the hungry lions, safely between them, will feel righteous in their behavior. We forget in the process that the teacher teach ALL kids, not only the “unhappy” ones, and the fact that the emotional and mental distress of the teacher spread on all children at the class. Why to involve only few, and hide, when we can be all together and in positive spirit find the way where we can go all together?
Fear separates, Love unites. We live in the fear of our egos.
It seems to me that the whole system, school, parents and teachers forget that the cure for the unhappiness start with ourselves, and our kids are often in the middle of this storm. All school systems are different and all of them, somehow, will tend to educate the mass. Great for some, difficult for others, our responsibility as a parent is to find what correspond the best to our children. Hard task, and as a mother of tree, I would see 3 different schools for each of them. As a wife of expat, my choices are limited. But let’s not forget that the parents and teachers should be the stable base of the triangle having our child on the top, pulling him to his best capacities and talents.
I have deep feeling that there is a need for the change and shift to the 21st century. Observing it from near, I have the feeling to be back in the communist system of my childhood, where the system was the powerful compressor of any difference, and it was destroying the originality of excellent teachers and creative children. “We are all equal” was the motto of Communists, I hear it often in France too. Equality. Yes, we are all equal as human beings, our essence, our Purusha, our Soul is equal. But our individuality is different, and this individuality, the thin layer of difference is what helps us to survive in the society as the different personalities.
Let’s work on it, bringing to our children the freedom of being who they are, finding their purpose of their existence here and now. One teacher explained to me that the school is not so interested in who kids are, but in the results of what they do. Well, this is maybe why they loved the week of yoga in the school! I don’t need to read the american(or others) studies about how yoga can bring the benefit in the classroom. No need neither for the long periods of observation. I did 19 classes of yoga asanas and 3 classes of the yoga philosophy for highschoolers. Within 15 minutes of asana class, after the consciouse breathing and bringing awareness to their body, thoughts and breath, the kids had already shining eyes and smile back on the face.
The philosophy classes shaken them differently, but how many of them every ask the question: Who am I? Well, it is the first big question of all philosophic systems, but it is the first step for kids to earn some awareness about at least who I am not!
To conclude, just the quote of the big master of all times: Gauthama Buddha…
“Don’t blindly believe what I say. Don’t believe me because others convince you of my words. Don’t believe anything you see, read, or hear from others, whether of authority, religious teachers or texts. Don’t rely on logic alone, nor speculation. Don’t infer or be deceived by appearances.”
“Do not give up your authority and follow blindly the will of others. This way will lead to only delusion.”
“Find out for yourself what is truth, what is real. Discover that there are virtuous things and there are non-virtuous things. Once you have discovered for yourself give up the bad and embrace the good.”