Today we learnt numbers in French class which just made me say in an obelix style “ The Gauls are crazy!”
It all starts innocently until you reach fifteen as each number has a distinct name. Then they begin to be called ten and six, ten and seven and so on. Twenty, thirty, forty, fifty and sixty also mercifully have their own names but the range of numbers between them still get called as twenty and one to nine, thirty and one to nine and so on - just like english you say and begin to relax thinking you have it all figured. And then comes the big blow! Seventy has no name – so the numbers 70 to 79 get called as sixty and ten to sixty and nineteen and just while you are about to say sixty and twenty for eighty you hear a new name for eighty – four times twenty! And so the madness goes on until 99 which is described as four times twenty and ten plus nine! And then hundred gets its own name – Cent!
Imagine a child of 4 looking at a number like 78 and figuring it out as sixty and ten plus eight - phew!

Hey ...but to come to think of it, 60 plus 15 sounds younger than 75 and four twenties does sound smaller than eighty - may be that is why they use these!!!!
There is a certain kick that one gets out of doing things outside the sphere of ones normal roles at every stage in life. Normally we have an urge to fast forward a little to the future and try out the things that are a little beyond reach or forbidden. There is a fantasy about the freedom and happiness of adult life. We spend our childhood and adoloscence in such a hurry to get to this promised land. Then we actually reach there and realise there is no such rainbow there and what is worse, you know that the remaining years of your life will all be the same and there is nothing that you want to hurry into. And you wish you had lived your a life a little more slowly enjoying all those earlier phases. Tough to rewind and replay.So when I saw an opportunity to go back and be a student again, I decided to give it a shot and enrolled for a beginner’s course in French with alliance francais.
The classes started on Wednesday morning at Jyothi Nivas College. It felt strange to walk into a class room and sit on one of those benches twenty four years after passing out of college – but there was a comforting familiarity about the ambience – same type of benches, the platform for the lecturer and the large black board. Thank God, some things in life do not change! It is a different kind of experience to be learning from the alphabets onwards at this age, sitting along with kids who are less than half your age and where the teacher hesitates every time she has to address you because she doesn’t know whether to use your name or stick to the safe “madam”. Some of the girls charmingly call me “aunty” while the male students take the safe route by addressing me “excuse me!”
I look around and see the kids earnestly struggling with the pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar as much as I do but I seem to be getting a little more out of the whole experience than any of them. They are learning only the language but I am learning much more by just being with these young kids and observing them.

“ ‘WHY?’ is one question that stays forever
in all the pleasure and pain of humanity
What remains is the question”
These words are from one of my favorite songs from a Tamil movie called “Apoorva Ragam”.
Down the ages, philosophers have pondered on the why of our existence and given us many theories. The why quest has been the spark for all our breakthroughs in science and technology. I completely agree that we would not be where we are today if men had not been asking Why.
One of the interesting and irritating phases with children is the “why phase”. For a while it is fun when they “why?” everything and you feel superior having all the answers. Then one day when you have explained a “why” at length to the minutest detail and are about to feel proud of yourself, you are thrown off balance with another “why?” That is when you save your face with a nonsense poem like:
because the sky is so high
and the bee married the butterfly
in the month of july!

I thought I had heard the last of the whys when my son started looking up the encyclopaedia first and googling later.
The whys started attacking me from unexpected quarters.
First it was the spate of “friendly” salesmen from Eureka Forbes. When I tried to cut them off by saying I do not need a vacuum cleaner, they challenged me with a mean “why?” What followed usually was a long defence from me on why I did not need a vacuum cleaner, or for that matter any convenience gadget because owning them resulted in a lot of dependence on the vagaries of power supply as well as chasing the vendor company for after sale support. This went on regularly until one day it dawned on me that I could actually lie and tell them that I already have a vacuum cleaner.

Then came the endless telephone calls from marketing executives of credit card agencies who demanded that I explain “why” I do not feel the need for a credit card. I think I was getting older by then to face the onslaught. Result: I have 3 credit cards now.

The latest is “Why” I do not own a cell phone. When people I meet ask for my cell phone number and tell them I do not own one, their first reaction is that probably I am lying and that I do not fell close enough to share the number with them. When they are convinced otherwise, they look at me like I am a dinosaur. And then they start lecturing me on why I should have a cell phone – how their lives have changed since they started using one! Which is when i start pondering
"why,lord, why me?"

Wonder whether the poet had been harrassed in a similar fashion which inspired him to write those immortal lines:
(Theirs) " not to reason why..(theirs) but to do and die"
I was in Chennai last week end and we went to visit Chelli mami. My sister and I walked into her house unannounced and were welcomed with a warm smile that touches your heart and tells you that your visit is genuinely appreciated. Within 10 minutes we had been persuaded to eat (mami always seems to have extra food) and the drumstick Sambar and potato curry combination was perhaps the best meal I had in years now. I was reminded of the many times I had eaten in her house as a young girl and wondered how she managed to get the recipes perfect every time – it always smelled and tasted the same. When we left after half hour, she had packed a large bottle of tender mango pickles for us to take home. And all I remember of the time we were there is that we were laughing all the time – again like old times.
Mami is not one of those wealthy old ladies living a life of leisure. In all her 72 years of life there has never been a day when she has not had to worry about something or other and money has always been scarce. Having lost her parents as a child, she was brought up by a widowed childless aunt who worked as a cook to bring up the orphaned kids – mami and her siblings. After completing school, she worked as an elementary school teacher in a Sarada Vidyalaya school and was the bread winner for her family as the man she married was a very kind man but never made any money. Both mama and mami had a very large heart and were always helping their poorer relatives even though they had 2 daughters and a son to take care of. It was always amazing to see how they managed to do all this on mami’s meager salary as a school teacher. I have never known her to be insecure or worry about anything. There is nothing petty about her house – her heart is so generous that she gives away everything. It is impossible for you to leave her house without eating something – at least a cup of coffee. She has always lived in very small apartments but they seem to have a way of expanding to hold any number of people who choose to walk in, so much like her heart. She has so little money but in the final analysis, she is always the “giver”. And she gives you the things that you cannot buy anywhere for money – genuine affection, traditional simple food and lots of laughter. When you leave her house your heart is always light and stomach is always full.
Life has been pretty one sided in giving her more than a fair share of misfortunes but mami has never stopped laughing. And she never complains.I was happy to see that her children have inherited her ability to laugh. There was always laughter in their house and it continues to this day – they know how to laugh back at life whatever life may throw at them. She has taught them something they don’t teach you anywhere else and so tough to master.

Would you say that an overall score of 54% is too bad - bad enough to be expelled from a school? This is exactly what a school has said to the child of a friend. In the 9th standard she has scored 54% and the school wants her out because they do not want any child scoring less than 60% to appear for the board exams. Reason: It will affect the reputation of the school if they do not have a 100% first class result in the board exams.
Now whose fault is it if the child did not score first class marks so far? Is it not as much a comment on the abilities of the teachers at the school if they could not motivate the child to do better in the nine years the child was there? If a school chooses the brightest of children and gets first class results, why do we need a school?
In any case who decides these grades anyway? Is there room in the world only for human beings who can score 60% and above? Is the system so fool proof as to label children’s capabilities ? And for god’s sake, this is just school leaving certificate not a specialization degree. Do they realize the blow this has given to an adoloscent’s self confidence?
And the pity is no one cares. There is a long queue outside the principal’s office for application forms to admit children into the school.
If it is any consolation, we are not alone in this. There is a very illuminating article on this written by John Taylor Gatto, New York State Teacher of the Year, 1991. It is called the
“Six-Lesson Schoolteacher” (You can read the whole article at

Here are some excerpts:
Teaching means many different things, but six lessons are common to school teaching from Harlem to Hollywood. You pay for these lessons in more ways than you can imagine, so you might as well know what they are:
The first lesson I teach is: "Stay in the class where you belong
The second lesson I teach kids is to turn on and off like a light switch.
The third lesson I teach you is to surrender your will to a predestined chain of command. Rights may be granted or withheld, by authority, without appeal.
The fourth lesson I teach is that only I determine what curriculum you will study.
In lesson five I teach that your self-respect should depend on an observer's measure of your worth. My kids are constantly evaluated and judged. A monthly report, impressive in its precision, is sent into students' homes to spread approval or to mark exactly -- down to a single percentage point -- how dissatisfied with their children parents should be. Although some people might be surprised how little time or reflection goes into making up these records, the cumulative weight of the objective- seeming documents establishes a profile of defect which compels a child to arrive at a certain decisions about himself and his future based on the casual judgment of strangers.
In lesson six I teach children that they are being watched.

Self-evaluation -- the staple of every major philosophical system that ever appeared on the planet -- is never a factor in these things. The lesson of report cards, grades, and tests is that children should not trust themselves or their parents, but must rely on the evaluation of certified officials. People need to be told what they are worth.
It only takes about 50 contact hours to transmit basic literacy and math skills well enough that kids can be self-teachers from then on. The cry for "basic skills" practice is a smokescreen behind which schools pre-empt the time of children for twelve years and teach them the six lessons I've just taught you
Institutional schoolteachers are destructive to children's development. Nobody survives the Six-Lesson Curriculum unscathed, not even the instructors. The method is deeply and profoundly anti-educational. No tinkering will fix it. In one of the great ironies of human affairs, the massive rethinking that schools require would cost so much less than we are spending now that it is not likely to happen. First and foremost, the business I am in is a jobs project and a contract-letting agency. We cannot afford to save money, not even to help children.
At the pass we've come to historically, and after 26 years of teaching, I must conclude that one of the only alternatives on the horizon for most families is to teach their own children at home. Small, de- institutionalized schools are another. Some form of free-market system for public schooling is the likeliest place to look for answers. But the near impossibility of these things for the shattered families of the poor, and for too many on the fringes of the economic middle class, foretell that the disaster of Six-Lesson Schools is likely to continue.
…the lessons of school prevent children from keeping important appointments with themselves and their families, to learn lessons in self-motivation, perseverance, self-reliance, courage, dignity and love -- and, of course, lessons in service to others, which are among the key lessons of home life.
Thirty years ago these things could still be learned in the time left after school. But television has eaten most of that time, and a combination of television and the stresses peculiar to two-income or single-parent families have swallowed up most of what used to be family time. Our kids have no time left to grow up fully human, and only thin-soil wastelands to do it in.
A future is rushing down upon our culture which will insist that all of us learn the wisdom of non-material experience; this future will demand, as the price of survival, that we follow a pace of natural life economical in material cost. These lessons cannot be learned in schools as they are. School is like starting life with a 12-year jail sentence in which bad habits are the only curriculum truly learned. I teach school and win awards doing it. I should know.