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Memories & Special Bonds

The Gift of the Question Mark

‘Make a sentence with the word “Grass”

That was the question for the 6 year old in her exam. She loved making sentences. She scrunched her face in concentration, and finally wrote a well thought out sentence, remembering all the rules in grammar that she had been taught.

The Gift of the Question Mark

The test paper came back with a zero for the sentence. The red circle around the selected words explained why.

“I saw a lion in the garden eating grass” was what the sentence read. ‘Lion’ was underlined once in red, and ‘eating grass’ was underlined twice by an irritated adult – the teacher.

The girl came back home, and showed the page to yet another adult.

“Hmmm…..” said this adult. “The lion likes to eat grass?”

“No. A lion only likes to eat what it kills. This one likes to eat rabbits, like the one in the story.”  Her lips quivered in sadness while she saw the red lines on her test paper.

“Sweetie, then why did this lion eat grass?”This adult was not angry; just a little surprised with the answer that the six-year old gave. Evidently, the child knew that lions did not eat grass. Was this child a tad rebellious, a little care-a-damn for her own good?

“The lion had a tummy ache. The grass was medicine for his tummy ache, and his Mommy had taught him to look for the right kind of grass for the tummy ache.” The quivering of lips had stopped, but there was a hint of a tear in her eyes as the child explained her stance.

The adult hugged the girl and promised, “We will go to school tomorrow and get this straightened out. You did well. Want to read another story?”

The little kid was me, and the other adult was my Dad. As promised, he went to meet the class teacher, and when the teacher was skeptical, went to meet the principal. The principal was amused, but convinced, and I got full marks for that question.

I shudder to think what would have happened if my Dad had gotten upset, told me I was wrong and judged me like my teacher earlier had – without understanding what went on in my head. I would definitely have stopped asking all the questions that I asked while growing up.

I have been a lecturer for a few years, and I still work with adult learning. The single most powerful hindrance to learning in all my classes has been the reluctance to ask questions; the reluctance to think out-of-the-box. I have realized that in my class, I am able to hold the attention of young, fertile minds only when they are forced to think, to imagine, and to question what I tell them.

Corporates (and some fancy schools and colleges too) these days spend millions on what they call “Innovation”. There are special classes aimed at making kids more ‘imaginative’.

Ironic, isn’t it? We spend a lifetime trying to weed out individualistic thinking out of our kids’ fertile minds. The whole of their childhood and young adult life, imagination was looked down upon. Questioning was ‘being rebellious’. In schools and colleges, they are taught to stick to the norms, believe without seeing, and trust without believing.

“Lions don’t eat grass!! What were you thinking? Where does it say in your textbook that lions eat grass?” Isn’t that what many teachers and parents would have said?

When will our education system learn to look up from the textbook to see the beautiful real world out there? And when will our ‘adults’ realize that children don’t need to be ‘taught’ anything – all they need is an environment where they can question, can imagine and can choose.

That’s what learning is all about, isn’t it?

Meena Bhatnagar is a mother of two, with a passion for the written word. She dabbles with fiction, a couple of them finding their way into published work, is an avid blogger, and works as a corporate trainer to pay for all the damages. She blogs on parenting, social issues and humorous incidents of her life and on hotel & restaurant reviews and corporate training.