Freedom first

Sep 22, 2013, 10:50 IST | Meher Marfatia

I went, I watched, I wondered. I mulled, I marvelled, I marked. But this isn't about the sky-high standard of inter-house debating I just judged

It’s about the power of a school to transform shy girls into women of substance. Where kids dare to debate and dream, argue and analyse. Work at play and play at work. In a school that takes pride of place among the tiny fistful of its kind left in the city. One that stands tall in the overgrown jungle of business ventures masquerading as educational institutions. One with minimum rules, maximum rights and the vision to teach subjects like Social Studies and English Lit the ‘IB’ way, years and years before it became kosher to spout these trendy two initials.  A school that’s truly big on little. Mentoring its children and parenting their parents. Such a school’s philosophy doubles to make sound parenting philosophy too. So that you drop all adult defences and better begin to believe:

Children should be seen and heard.
A charming move, since the days of its most legendary principal, saw her block out the third word in the classic ‘Please do not disturb’ sign outside her office. Please do disturb, she warmly extended instead. Amazingly receptive, hugely welcoming, invested in the basic honesty of the young. Every child invited to have her say. Heard without fear of rancour or judgement, the trust rarely abused.

The youngest can teach you too.
Almost half a century ago a teacher declared she had learnt a whole lot from a soulful-eyed kindergartner. Her young muse grew up to become a graceful dancer and poet. Out of the mouth of babes... Earlier this month, the principal strung up a display of colourful Teachers Day cards she received. And because words exude energy, on stressful mornings she actually draws strength with a fifth-grader’s favourite Harry Potter line. The scrawled advice from Dumbledore reads: ‘We must make a choice between what is easy and what is right.’

It’s okay, even good, to be angry.
About the things that matter, knowing which battles to pick. About injustice, domestic or social, because equality rocks. Kids are fiercely democratic until life looms to dim that blaze of balance. Till then, though, it’s gratifying to figure why your child’s football team discreetly didn’t go for the goal. Only to let the opposing school -- an orphanage -- have a fair shot to win before treating them to ice cream cones at match end.

EQ scores over IQ every time.
It sure does when staff and students hug each other meeting in the middle of corridors, not an eyebrow arched. When posh air-conditioned classes are ditched, letting in the air of original thought breeze through its small, simple rooms. When nurses in starched uniforms aren’t expected to replace the soothing touch of teachers themselves ministering much needed TLC.

Open doors, open arms, open minds.
Goodbye authority, adios autocracy. Here heads are held high with the confidence born of being allowed to stumble and stall, fumble and fall. Finding themselves finally, children come beautifully into their stride. Graduating from a place that isn’t school, it’s a family.

Sorry to say, this wasn’t my school. And when I sat as a fresher on a college bench, it came to me -- the spunk and spontaneity with which these girls embraced the world was enviable. Opinionated show-offs, we cribbed then. But having seen my own flower forth from this very genuine space of liberalism, I nowsay: Way to go, baby. Feminist. Feisty. Forward. Ever forward.

Meher Marfatia is the author of 10 books for children and two for parents. She has mothered her own kids well past the terrible twos and almost past the troubled teens.
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