Confessions of a Misspent Youth
by Mara Wolynski
1. Mara Wolynski was schooled in New York city in a non-conventional school. Her parents were impressed by the relaxed, informal, and happy-go-lucky environment of the school, because they themselves believed that children’s schools must not have the rigidity, discipline, and the focus on learning that most conventional schools adopt as a standard practice.
The school was appropriately called Sand and Sea, possibly to underline its proximity to Nature’s open and welcoming ways. Quite a good number of parents having similar views on early education sent their wards to the school. Trying to make education for kids a pain-free experience, Sand and Sea stood in sharp contrast to normal schools.
2. The school was run by fifteen women, and one man. The latter ‘taught’ Science. All these people were like-minded, and were convinced that education in the early stages must attempt to unravel the innate tendency acquire knowledge that most youngsters are born with. ‘Arts’ was at the top of the informal syllabus, although organized coaching of any sort was shunned completely. The school authorities believed regimented teaching stifles creativity in youngsters.
Happiness and Hieroglyphics
3. There were specific timings fixed for different subjects, but the students could refuse to be taught anything that they didn’t like. The school had a well laid-out policy – no student must feel bored, and intimidated. Competition among class mates was also not allowed lest a pupil might think the other is forging ahead at his cost. When the author lost patience with Mathematics, she could escape to the library to write short stories. History was taught not by narrating incidents and their dates, but by recreating in the class room the scenarios of those bygone era. Education consisted of real life tasks like growing corns, eating buffalo meat, making tapees, learning Indian words etc. Such tasks gave the students some glimpses of America’s history. Another year, the students made costumes, clay pots, papier-machine gods. Through these, they got some ideas about Greek culture. In another year, to acquaint the students about the Middle Ages, the students robed themselves as kings and nights. The student used to drink orange juice from tin foil goblets, but had not got to know how the Middle Ages were alike.
4. The school taught the bizarre system among the Huns to drink raw blood straight from a horse’s body before embarking upon a military conquest. It was quite fascinating to learn this. The school didn’t deliberately teach other cumbersome facts about the Huns, that obviously wouldn’t interest the youngsters. On another instance, the author (then a child) did a project on ancient Egypt by drawing a thirty-feet-long mural.
Ignoring is not bliss
5. The author proceeds to narrate his early-education experience in the school that had teachers who didn’t ask the children to learn how to read till they reached the third grade. It was felt that making children read before that spoiled their creativity. Fostering creativity among children was a primary objective of the school’s pedagogy. The teachers actively kept the students away from tasks that burdened them intellectually. The stress was through spontaneous learning, and not by coerced learning. This approach continued till the children reached their age of nine. Despite such innovative approach, Sun and Sand had not produced a single artist of any fame. Th school encouraged the children to bond with each other well, and this single motto defined their informal teaching. By the time the children reached ten, they still hadn’t learned the skill of reading. However, they could use the words like ‘acting out’ and ‘introverted’ from the way their friends behaved in the class room.
6. Finally, the children passed out of Cannan, and had to move on in life. Sadly, they found themselves severely under-prepared and ill-equipped to cope with the academic load in the new schools.This caused disappointment and frustration to both the students and their parents who felt the precious money and time ad been wasted. The students were no better than the traditionally disadvantaged children of the slums.
7. An aluminous of Sun and Sand committed suicide at the age of twenty when he failed miserably in a high school in New York. The shame and ignominy did him in. Other alumini from Sun and Sand had to take psychiatric help.
8. The school psychologist of the place where the author enrolled later was baffled by his unusually low intellectual ability. He suggested to the author’s mother to put him through some incisive mental tests that could determine why the author (as a boy) was un-receptive to new ideas and skills. Such inability to reject new information afflicted other classmates of his studying elsewhere. The author’s reading comprehension was pitiably low. The author some how managed to get his B.A degree, although he stumbled many a times along the journey facing derision and disapproval all the way.
The lure of learning
9. When the author retrospects to find out the reason why Sun and Sands students prove to be such miserable laggards in studies, he discerns a pattern — the school’s carefree system of pedagogy with no stress on formal learning was the rot cause. The school’s system of coaching made fools out of meritorious students.
10. The author compares his twelve-year-old brother’s mental ability with his. The brother is studying in a traditional school. His Mathematics skill and his understanding of many other subjects in the world are much superior to the author’s. In another instance in the author’s own family, there is a 15-year-old brother who has also developed commendable academic skills. He was in Sun and Sand till he was eight. Then the author’s mother shifted him to a regular school, and that brought about the improvement. This brother can now make film documentaries.
11. The author has come to conclude that the schools must make the learning environment so enjoyable that the students opt in voluntarily to acquire knowledge. Those students who show no interest in learning must be coerced to learn things the hard way. In the case of the author, t was all along very softy-softy, and that retarded him so grievously.