The pupils have been busy these past two months rehearsing their dance numbers to re-tell stories from the Bible. So, I think it apt to start my talk with a quotation from that holy book. Here it is: "Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not; for such is the kingdom of God." So said Jesus, when His apostles were shooing away the little children from the audience that had gathered to listen to His parables.
Indeed, children are not just the salt of the earth, but are the closest analogy to God's kingdom. Their minds and hearts are pure, and it is in this soil of innocence and purity that all possibilities take root, and eventually grow into manifest reality.
The minds of children are full of questions, not of set ideas and beliefs. Their observations are fresh and honest and funny because they speak the truth and nothing but...! And truth IS funny. (Those of you who have read their entries in 'The Magic Pencil' will agree with me on this.).
Children can't wait to get out of bed to play and enjoy the day, every single day. The sight of a child at play, alone or with others, is truly a glimpse into the kingdom of God.
But then, children grow up all too soon. And when they do, most of them stop asking questions. Instead, they find themselves answering Teacher's questions, and have no time to play, anymore. Instead of rushing out of bed to greet the sunrise, they find themselves rushing out of the school gates, eager to greet the sunset, so they can go back to bed and rest their weary heads. Alas, they have lost the magic of childhood, and with it, the heaven that was their world. How did this happen? How did the magic get lost?
One answer is---formal schooling and its emphasis on what it wants the child to learn, and not what the child himself, wants to learn. What all children want to learn, and deserve to learn, is: how to read, how to write and how to make numbers enable them to do simple business transactions. Not textbook information on Science and History that they aren't interested in, yet, but are made to memorize, anyway, to pass those hateful exams! Those children who have not fully mastered how to read and understand what they read, find themselves eventually turning away from life's divine pleasure---the divine pleasure of learning and unlearning through books picked according to one's individual interest or passion. Turning away from this heavenly treat, is such a tragic, needless misfortune. But then, who wants to read when one has not yet mastered this skill? Who wants to open a textbook on Science and History and any other book when one cannot read fluently yet, much less, understand its contents? Yet, oddly enough, Science and History are given more importance in the elementary grades than this most important, most powerful skill of all---reading comprehension.
This is how children lose their sense of wonder, their effortless ability to ask questions; those questions that sparkle with original insights and common sense. This is how children gradually stop expressing their original remarks about the world around us--- original views that can help make everyone regard life as a heavenly garden to enjoy and not as a valley of tears to be endured.
In order to fight the sense of failure that comes when reading comprehension is not fully developed in them, these children memorize and imbibe unquestioned information and dogmas. For this, they are given honours and awards! This is how the world suddenly becomes drab and ugly---when an inquiring mind is replaced by a 'knowing' mind, with all its arrogance and intolerance.
Views and bits and pieces of information that school children are not allowed to question and challenge are the bricks that build a 'knowing' mind. The fear of expressing their doubts and of giving dissenting views because of the threat of being punished for thinking differently, is the mortar that holds these bricks together. And so, with brick and mortar, the child's mind is reduced to a concrete mass of prejudices, hate and fear--- a perfect cannon ball, which, when unleashed, quickly transforms heaven into hell.
I founded Harvent School with a vision different from that of the formal school that society has inflicted on us. My vision is best expressed by someone who I discovered, thinks like I do-- Francois Rabelais. He said, "A child is not a vase to be filled but a fire to be lit." And so I always caution your children, my pupils, not to memorize information nor to readily accept everything 'taught' to them in future classrooms. Why? Because classroom teachings on Science and History may just be a professor's mere surface insights into a brilliant author's deeper message and vision, and being such, prevent the student or even a whole society from reaching his and/or its rightful 'place in the sun'.
And so, my staff and I dedicate each day towards developing the basic skills in each of our pupils--- how to read in English, understand what they read, write down and enunciate their original insights from their readings, as well as master the magical use of numbers. Delivering the mastery of these skills to my pupils through our personalized system of instruction IS lighting the fire in each of them. It is the flame of these basic skills, that turns that sense of failure to ashes. And, as pupils master the three Rs, their learning ability increases, and their interest in books naturally increases, too. "They are the ground, the books, the academes; From whence doth spring the true Promethean fire", wrote Shakespeare. The wisdom and the self-confidence we gain from reading books of our own choice, at our own leisure, form the warp and woof of that magic carpet that flies us back to Paradise lost.
My dear graduates, my young Prometheuses: May you light this dark and dangerous world with the fire that Harvent School has lit in each of you! And I hope and pray that no university here or abroad whose portals you will enter will ever extinguish it. Congratulations and thank you very much!
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