What space exists outside a person is the same that exists within him. Verily, what space exists within a person is the same as that space within the heart.
He, who knows this, obtains full, non-active prosperity.
Chandogya Upanishad III 12. 7-9
The Role of the Teacher and the Taught
Date: 20 July 2014
Location: Narada Gana Sabha
Any form of education gives instruction. However, if that were all it did, what responsibility does it take for preparing the child for life? An education that simply instructs and instructs well, but suppresses the true nature of the child is destructive, not constructive; burdensome, and one that does not lead to the development and happiness of the individual.
Does this simple truth evade teaching processes in the arts? Is it not necessary for a young teacher of the dance to know more about the body and the mind of a child in their care? Is it not time to discuss this issue?
Montessori, an educationalist, believed that children are ‘reborn’ as it were, every six years of the early stages of their development and at each of these, the child presents characteristics different from those exhibited during the preceding years.
In the early formative years of 0 to 6, she believed that nothing is established and everything is possible. During this stage, the child displays an ‘absorbent mind’, taking everything in without judgement. It is a self-constructive phase, wherein the exterior world is absorbed through the senses. Movement is co-ordinated with the mind, but importantly, exploration is the intent and not the result. In methodology suggested to her teachers, ‘repitition’ was not to be dictated, but left as a time-table that each child sets for himself. The process of the refinement of the senses is taking place at this stage and an adult must refrain from obstructing its natural arrangement.
What is perhaps hugely relevant for the teaching of the arts, is that this is the period when the child is obsessed with orderliness – as they connect physical order with spatial awareness. This then, is the time to teach them movement. Alas, not strictly according to our practice, convenience and severity. On the contrary, by creating an environment of the tangible, physical space, along with critical intangible elements - like security and love.
From the age of 6 to 12 years, it was believed that the child moves from the sensorial or material space to the space of abstraction and intellectual activity. The child becomes acutely aware of the needs of others and their own sense of justice. A towering imagination, along with a new reasoning mind, overtakes the child.
How many of us adults would dare to fully acknowledge this change in a six year old and treat the child with new delicacy? The child’s deep interest in morality – in right and wrong forces him to judge the teacher and they often leave a class for the injustice done to one among them. This phase demands an even greater imagination on the part of the teacher. It is a time to plant as many seeds in their minds that will fire their imagination. Support them with techniques that will assist them in discovering more. It is preferable not to give them answers that you, as the teacher has chanced upon and that you treat as inviolate and unchangeable. The class may move to real environments, new situations. Their interest in myth, in valour and courage and their sense of justice allows them to instinctively understand that a story is not realistic, but symbolic or allegorical. They revel in the unreal!
Repitition on the other hand, is anathema to them if not introduced with variance and renewed skill. Repitition serves to kill their imagination and interest - sometimes permanently. Reasoning and sharing with them the usefulness and vision of the end product is vital at this stage. And yet, that is the exact age when the teacher of the arts demands absolute obedience and expects nothing less than a conforming to tradition, without questioning. Instead, a psychologist would suggest that equality must be granted at this stage – both in punishment and in reward.
We all know that equality in our society and in our educational systems is not just. Special treatment of one individual or particular group does not constitute justice. There is also undue affirmation and recognition of individuality and people love to identify a ‘special’ talent or a special child that ultimately leads to egoism and isolation. Such a situation does not encourage internal develpoment. A sense of justice on the other hand is born specifically fron an interior education. “The principle of distributive justice and individual right, which are external destroys the inborn, natural sense of true justice.”
From the age of 12 to 18 years, a sense of power enters the spirit of the child. At this juncture, greater empathy and love are required. The search of the child is for identity. Playing or engaging with different characters of a theatrical production or different nayikas in the varnams, padams and javalis can allow a child to express himself, find himself and answer the critical question, “Who am I?”
The sexes dancing or singing together as in village situations allows them to explore and acknowledge their own and the other sex, thereby leading to an understanding of their body and the notion of the self and who they are. Having heros, villians, saints or sinners whose voice becomes their voice serves to answer important questions in their minds.
Alternatively, a new engagement with what money can buy, serves to block or dam their energy. Being anti-authoritarian at this age, disrespect for their notions – even if mistaken only serves to thwart their capabilities. It is at this age that they must be given real responsibility, unconditional love and a sharing of the teacher’s life-experience. For what they lack, is life experience. Else they are equal to you. Most of all, sharing a friendly attitude to error, an ease with error without pouncing on it, is also essential.
From 18 years onwards the child is no more present and instead, a contributing member of society stands before you. Money, which we place so much importance on is important enough, but what is or could be a possibility, is coming to terms with what Montessorians call their ‘cosmic task’ – what they might do for society, for the common good of all. This is equally important to the young adult.
Does every teacher of the dance recognize this?
I do not fully subscribe to the idea of a prescribed pedagogy for the teaching of the arts of India. Gurus have an indepth and uncanny way of formulating an individual style of passing on a tradition and establishing a routine that typifies not only their particular bani, but also their personal preference, different from the manner and nature of their own learning. Gurus, institutions, school and college programs and now, foreign centers that teach the Indian arts are challenged to move the learner from the successful, yet often suspect processes adopted by a ‘private’ teacher to the ‘public’ school system, with added accountability. For little pedagogy exists. We all know that when the ‘guru-shishya’ system works in the case of one teacher, it is wonderful and a relief for parents and student alike. However, when it does not work there is no recourse to a remedial strategy. Most of all, a child loses a dream and an adult learner loses interest, money, time and in many cases, becomes bitter.
Since every dancer that is trained and wishes to dance on stage resorts to teaching without methodology or a system for want of a prescribed one, and without a sense of context and history, often without a true understanding of theory and an ability to deconstruct the components of the form and the compositions learnt, we have generations of dancers who end up learning in bits, in workshops and individual classes – attempting to remedy their situation as time goes by.
The biggest loss accrues to the art form itself.
Perhaps it is time for serious discourse and a new sensitivity in teaching practises. The child is vulnerable and some thought must go into why young teachers of dance or music require no training in handling a sensitive body and an even more sensitive mind without adequate training.