I remember being impressed with an activity organized at the Orientation Ceremony at Medha’s school before it opened. All parents were given scraps of paper and asked to draw whatever we could in a minute. I drew a scenery. When we were done we were asked to tack the scraps to a wall. A speaker spoke about how each of us drew unique pictures and no two were alike. Similarly, she reminded us that, each child is different and one should never be compared with the other. What a beautiful way to emphasize something as profound and simple as “Every child is different and every child is special in his/her own right”!
All that was just a show and nothing is practiced as is preached.
The first time Medha had to speak on stage, it was about her school. I asked her what she liked about it. Based on her answer, I then wrote a few lines on how much she enjoyed the first day of school, watching people dressed in costumes, balloons and streamers hung all over the premises and how much she looked forward to learning and having a good time with friends and teachers. But the supervisor changed the lines to include the school motto of “Service before self” and other things way beyond the thinking and speaking of a 4 year old. Until the lines were changed, she spoke perfectly, but after the modifications, all words jumbled in her head and nothing came out except a greeting, introduction, Thank-you and a lot of mumbling!
After all that practice, she wasn’t even allowed to go on stage, because she wasn’t saying her lines perfectly.
Due to her fluency in English, she was given a few more chances to speak. In a couple she did OK, not as confidently as the teachers expected her to. Then came a speech about Indian Independence Day. It had more than a couple of lines and was full of difficult words like “ramparts”, “unfurl” etc. When I asked the teacher whether I could change the words to make the speech simpler, I was told that then it wouldn’t come up to “DPS Standards”! “Come on, are u serious?!?!” – is what I really wanted to ask, but I just nodded away and came back home to torture, no, teach Medha.
I still replaced the difficult words with simple ones, shortened the speech as much as I could and came up with-
“India became free from British rule on the 15th of August, 1947. That’s why we celebrate Independence Day on the 15th of August every year. Our Prime Minister, Modi, hoists the National Flag at RedFort, Delhi”.
And when she said her lines, it always came out as-
“India became free from Modi…”, nothing else…
No matter how hard I tried to teach her the right words and no matter how many times I asked her to repeat them, she found it hard to remember the lines.
After many attempts at learning, she told me that she wasn’t interested in the speech. She is one headstrong girl! When I probed further, she told me she felt shy onstage. I quoted the same to her teacher. She coolly told me that there were other kids better than her at giving speeches and that she would give the lines to one of them. Again, I nodded away and headed home, slightly relieved about not having to “torture” Medha anymore.
But, apparently the other girl’s mom didn’t have the heart to “torture” her child as well. So the learning of the lines fell on Medha’s lap once again.
“Just say, “Independence Day is celebrated on the 15th of August every year”, nothing more”, her teachers screamed at her, and me.
They compared her with the other kids in the class who were able to say not just a few lines but paragraphs, without missing a word. Right in front of me. I felt bad, but I didn’t argue with them. Instead, I talked to Medha and encouraged her to say her line for the program. Watching the way I spoke with my daughter and the tone I used softened her teacher a bit. She told Medha she would give her a Snicker bar if she said her line well.
At home Prasad and I tried really hard to get her to say the line, but she couldn’t focus on what we were trying to say. We punished her with “No more reading stories”,”No more going to the park”. We even compared her with the other “smart” kids in her class and used harsh words. We felt so bad even as we were doing this. We knew that this was SO not our nature. We are usually calm and patient. But the pressure on her, on us, was turning us into folks we didn’t wish to be.
I decided then and there to talk to her teachers and ask them not to push Medha to do something she isn’t good at or willing to do. She is just not ready yet. Or maybe she isn’t as smart as some of the other kids in her class, but she is certainly special in her own right. She is friendly, curious, adventurous and crazy about books.
Who knows, someday she might stun the whole world with her wise words! Or even if she doesn’t, that’s O. K! She is still SPECIAL!
You know what, she did say her line in the end, loud and clear, her teacher told me.