9 essential skills we should learn or re-learn

I recently read an article that discusses the need for children to learn nine essential skills: asking questions, solving problems, tackling projects, finding passion, independence, being happy on their own, compassion, tolerance and dealing with change.

I think these skills, or however you’d like to refer to them as, are thorough and invaluable to any parent raising children.

I’d like to add two things to this article:

1. I think the 10th skill should be “Connecting with self, community and nature.” Through such connections, we can exercise skills 1-9 to deepen our introspection, to serve our communities in humility and to live harmoniously within nature.

2. I personally don’t think I’ve mastered the above skills. I often take situations at face-value without being inquisitive.  When we accept a situation at face-value, we adapt to it, and by so doing, we forget that a situation is open to transformation. I also expect situations to turn out the way I’ve planned in my head, and by so doing, I forsake spontaneity. It seems to me that the older we get, the more we think we know the world and the less curious we become. There have been times when I’ve been dependent, lacked compassion, been intolerant, and lived as if life was changeless. I therefore think the above skills should be learned or re-learned not just by children, but by us all.

Are there any skills you’d like to add to this list?

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What I’m reading: Pedagogy of the Oppressed

“A revolutionary leadership must practice co-intentional education. Teacher and students (leadership and people), co-intent on reality, are both Subjects, not only in the task of unveiling that reality, and thereby coming to know it critically, but in the task of re-creating that knowledge. As they attain this knowledge of reality through common reflection and action, they discover themselves as its permanent re-creators. In this way, the presence of the oppressed in the struggle for their liberation will be what it should be: not pseudo-participating, but committed involvement.” – Paulo Freire

Pedagogy of the Oppressed is complex and requires a thorough, patient read. I’d highly recommend it to educators, community organizers, community leaders, those dissatisfied with the current state of things, those questioning self and society and to those interested in any form of public service.

I suspect that this book will weave itself into my reflections to come.

The 4Hs of education

There are five basic problems with India’s current education system:

  1. It only focuses on providing students with an education so that they can get jobs and make money.
  2. It gives students skills to only be successful in urban centers. In India, this approach neglects the fact that roughly 70% of Indians still live in villages!
  3. It actively persuades students to move away from local knowledge to uphold universal benchmarks. Most often, the local knowledge that is available to students has formed over many years of trial and error, and has evolved with the land and the people. To replace this historical, evolved, culturally-competent knowledge base with universal benchmarks established by state and national governments is highly impractical.
  4. It makes students feel that their local knowledge is inferior to the education provided in schools.
  5. It promotes competition among students where self interest is valued more than general good.

In India, the Right to Education Act is hailed as a step towards ending illiteracy. But, if being literate means going through the current education system, then I am not sure if being literate is beneficial. In the current education system, we are pegged against our peers and must compete, thus, making us feel insecure about our abilities. We are taught to view our communities in economic ways only, where each member provides us with certain services. We are taught to view nature as resources to be used rather than a living entity to be conserved. It appears that the more literate we become in the current education system, the farther we get away from understanding ourselves, our communities and nature.

I think we need to expand our approach to education so that it combines a sound understanding of students with their socioeconomic, cultural and natural surroundings. Education should help students build a connection with self, their community and nature. For me, one of the goals of education is to make students understand the difference between their need and their greed. And, when their need is not provided, to make an effort to attain it, and when their greed is exacerbated, to have the capacity to control it. Understanding the difference between need and greed is rooted in a deep connection with self, community and nature: Only when one is insecure about self, unsure about the community and distant from nature does one begin to convert their greed into their need.

A few months back I attended a talk by Satish Kumar—educator, activist, Gandhian. Prior to the talk, we had some time to chat about education. He said education is that which focuses on the 4Hs: Home, Heart, Hand, and Head. I think this is an excellent way to sum-up education and potentially a viable means to change our current education system.

Home refers to land, nature and people. Education should teach students to coexist peacefully and sustainably, and to not lose connection with their home. Heart refers to love, courage, discipline and wisdom. Education should teach students to exercise these values and to use them to build a secure connection with self. Hand refers to the importance of daily labor. Education should teach students to engage in daily labor to help their communities, to become active citizens. Head refers to rationality and discernment. Education should teach students to logically study, assess and construct problems and to vocalize their thoughts in a coherent way.

Just as a car does not move without all four wheels, the 4 Hs must act together to provide holistic education. For rationality without wisdom is self-interest; courage without discernment is foolishness; cultivating land without discipline is exploitation; love without labor is expressionless.