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What is Worth Teaching?

Professor Krishna Kumar in his very influential book 'What is worth teaching?' says:

“Let us look, for example, at the grade six-history text prepared under the auspices of the NCERT. It 'covers' Alexander, Chandragupta Maurya, Bindusara, and Ashoka in one paragraph each. If we look more closely, we will appreciate the teacher's predicament when she tries to explain a sentence such as this to eleven year olds: "Alexander had invaded India because some of the northern areas were included in the great Persian empire of the Achaemenid rulers" 


Who were the Achaemenid rulers? Where was the Persian empire? What did it mean to 'include' some areas of India in that empire? No teacher has the time to answer such questions, let alone the time to allow children to explore them in the library (if there is one). No solution is likely to be found for the problem of 'curriculum load' until it is diagnosed correctly. The problem of volume of content at any grade level does not originate in the so-called 'explosion of knowledge', which is frequently referred to in our country in discussions of curriculum. It originates in the archaic notion of curriculum as a bag of facts and in the equally archaic view of teaching as a successful delivery of known facts. Unless we shed these notions and accept more modern, humanist concepts of curriculum and teaching, we are going to remain stuck as teachers with impossibly large syllabi and fat textbooks to cover. The quasi bureaucratic organizations responsible for curriculum planning in our country will go on packing the syllabi tighter and tighter, all the time seeking justification in the explosion of knowledge with which our 'backward' country will have to cope. This process of mistaken action and legitimizing of action can stop only if we recognize that curriculum planning involves a selection of knowledge, and teaching involves the process of creating a classroom ethos in which children want to pursue inquiry. We hardly need to add that a curriculum based on this view of teaching can be prepared, and implemented only after the teacher's right to participate in the organization of knowledge and the child's right to autonomy in learning are accepted.”

(From the last part of Chapter 1 of 'What is worth teaching?' by Professor Krishna Kumar) 


The academic content of what the children have to study in school is large. When a teacher has to transact this large load, in a classroom with many children, it becomes a superhuman task to stay alternative. (If it was one teacher and one child or even one child alone with occasional inputs from a peer or teacher, I think the problem becomes not only manageable but easy.) 

So, here is the restatement of the overall problem with alternative schools:

IF what is required is a wise teacher

AND wisdom implies the ability to be uncaught, to be able to witness things non-judgmentally WHICH requires some practice of silence, of self-reflection, of expressing love and joy and generosity

AND if the everyday teaching life is so hectic that it leaves no room to even breathe

THEN how the hell does the non-wise teacher become a wise teacher?

AND...... in that case, the difference between mainstream and alternative schools is only cosmetic. And the parents can quietly choose the nearest mainstream school that fits their budget.

-Arun Elassery

Founder, Asli Shiksha

Students learning effortlessly

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