A sufficient curriculum

In Local Ecosystem Education (LEE), there is a simple clarity that people will learn what they need to when they need to put it to use. Simply living (vs existing or vacationing) in the community exposes children to the necessary skills & capabilities for living well. And then there are hyperbolas & complex numbers along with formation of fjords & organic chemistry which don’t make sense for most people for most of their lives. This doesn’t need to be mandated for nor distanced from a student. If a child is curious s/he can well read/study/experiment/research a phenomenon or object of this world. To mandate it makes it less a function of need or curiosity thereby leaving it undesirable & pointless. I remember studying about wind-tunnels back when I was 9–10 because I read about it in a book (which I have lost over my many relocations) but no one in school wanted me to (though some of the kids & I had fun discussing it & then coming up with our own wild ideas of using it). When a scene in Armour of God-2 was set in the wind tunnel I could fully appreciate it & explain it to my mom & dad (who knew nothing about wind-tunnels).

Hence, any curriculum is regressive in its conception. What a curriculum lays down is an agenda outside of the educator & the student. While a list of possible things to be exposed to can be useful (in ensuring that we aren’t just focusing on, say, STEM skills & experiences) LEE doesn’t work to a curriculum (at least not one defined outside of the community). LEE, by its own structure can realise the goals of different curricula but that is not the objective. Nevertheless, if one were transitioning to a LEE-style “schooling”, then it is not difficult to map curricular requirements into facilitated learnings in a community (e.g. planing & sanding a wooden surface can be a lesson in friction, coefficient of friction as well as cohesion/adhesion & material sciences as well as ration & proportion).

With that clarified, I still believe there is scope for defining a curriculum with the sole objective of providing Learning Facilitators (LF) with a sense of “Why” or “What”. If that is not required, then what follows is trivial common knowledge.

In LEE, the constructive & nourishing traits of Nature are used to guide the following definition of a curriculum. There are but 9 “subjects” to learn & it takes as long as it takes for a child to learn these.

1. Delve into what you love:

Seems obvious to state but in LEE, each child is supported to follow & encouraged to delve deeper into whatever it is they love. It could be a spinning top, an earthworm, pottery, farming, robotics, plumbing, etc. It doesn’t have to be any conventional “subject” (e.g. it could be an interest in the songs & dance of the hijra community of India). While the Learning Facilitators might not have ready expertise in any of these, they provide a safe space for the child to explore & in the process, they (LF) learn, too. There are unique challenges in facilitating different interests (which might not be long lasting) & that is the experience LFs share amongst themselves to support one another. The child simply keeps exploring & peeling off layers of unknown till her interest wanes.

2. Finding ways to be kind:

This is so easy to trivialise into lip-service or contrived activities of condescension that it feels vital to describe this. Children are simple, both in their kindness as well as in their sharp unkindness. An environment where they can study these & build motivation to be kind in different ways, is what LEE fosters. Exploring but with kindness (e.g. you don’t need to rip off wings of a butterfly to realise that they need wings to fly), debate but with kindness (e.g. challenging an introvert on a point of view vs discussing or creating a game to unearth perspective), questioning but with kindness (e.g. rudely thwarting a local ritual/belief vs creating avenues for discussion & revisiting practices), eating but with kindness (e.g. not snatching food, not killing animals, using all of a plant without waste, etc.), experimenting but with kindness (e.g. you don’t concede to testing chemicals on powerless animals), playing but with kindness (e.g. not making bullying a child, a game), relating but with kindness (e.g. not emotionally hurting the vulnerable one in a relationship, being sensitive to stages in one’s life & days in the year), creating but with kindness (e.g. considering the impact of that new mall/library/highway on the animals in the ecosystem, a creative poem but mocking someone or some section of the population), talking but with kindness (e.g. carelessly using harsh/inconsiderate words vs gentle, inclusive & soothing words) identifying but with kindness (e.g. recognising that someone likes to be by herself vs calling her names) & so on. To explore different ways to effect these instills in the child the value for kindness & how to balance goals/desires with kindness. In kindness is wrapped the slightly more intangible qualities of rightness & goodness, not to mention justice (different from legal/regulatory praxis).

3. Finding ways to enjoy play & invent new ones:

Play is the currency of childhood. To ensure that a child is not rid of playfulness (and hence, alertness, joy, interaction, friendship, physical exercise, risk-management, negotiation, letting-go, etc.), LEE doesn’t place any activity above play. Play is not dissipative. There is enough research & study gone into the role of play in growing & the crisis of reduced play in contemporary (mostly urban) schools, & hence, I won’t go into that. LEE explores different ways of enriched play. One of the ideas is called 80/20 where 80% of the time (if the interaction with the LFs is time-bound) the children play unsupervised & 20% of the time, new play ideas are introduced or co-created with LFs. Play is not merely running around playing hide-and-seek but any unsupervised activity including video-games (though the child is encouraged to be out in the open) or reading or theatre or lego/jigsaw construction or painting or dancing etc. — whatever the child is interested in doing along with others or by herself (though, again, the child is encouraged to build bonds). It also includes watching movies/plays together. Children are encouraged to include other members of the community in their play but that feels inevitable (esp. when hiding between the plants at the florist’s). Play also includes story-time with the elders of the community or camping, etc. Yes, the entire day of a child does seem like play & we believe it should be.

4. Finding ways to express oneself & delight in the arts:

This might not be separate from what was described as play, but deserves being called out in the midst of all that falls under play. While a common child might not relate to “adult” notions of having to express oneself (especially when their entire day is in play & with the community, spent in kindness), there are unique aspects of their spirit that ache to find expression. I am not a child psychologist to repair to the lexicon of that field, but from experience, a child’s want to express what they have witnessed through their day needs avenues. This, again, is not something that an LF might be experienced in, but with kindness & a patient ear, these avenues can carved out for the child. One such avenue, is art & creative immersion. There are the common modes of music, singing, dance, theatre, painting, sculpture, writing, drawing & then there are uncommon modes of dyeing & tying colourful threads around trees, cooking, cleaning, feeding fish, bathing animals (cattle, dogs, et al), making collages, etc. To create the space for the child to subscribe to their most meaningful & soulful means of expression is an objective of LEE & to utilise that is something encouraged in the child. A child might well grow for many years without needing to, like a young sapling finding no affiliation to creepers/climbers.

5. Finding ways to share what one has (not limited to objects) with others:

To share is vital for growth. Children benefit from being encouraged to find ways to share. But prior to sharing, it is vital to instill in the child a sense of abundance if not in objects but in vital energy & spirit. To share learnings, ideas & discoveries, feelings, effort, industry, resources & nourishment is something that LEE fosters & actively encourages. One aspect of sharing is reusing. Another aspect of sharing is to actively search for usage of object/idea/industry which might otherwise go to disuse.

6. Finding ways to understand/solve problems/issues in the community (both individually as well as in a team)

A child is a member of the community & the problems of the community are the problems for the child as well. To treat issues of the community as outside of the mental faculties of the child are the first step towards historic alienation of the richest & simplest minds from vital discourse. A child is actively immersed in the issues of the community. A new venue for play could be near the river exposing them to the problems of the river & effluents. A walk could be along a crematorium or graveyard creating a possible ideation around how to include them in safe/hygienic spaces. Inclusion in discussions around market constraints & trade challenges could help them understand resource utilisation & perhaps come up with creative ideas. A walk through or play venue at a ghetto or near an incident of violence against a section of the population could create vital conversation about how to include them & revisiting notions of segregation. Which brings me to the next “subject”

7. Finding ways to explain practices/issues/phenomena in the community/world/Nature & critically analyse them (both individually as well as in a team):

This is vital for a citizen of the world (& people are realising this more today amidst the wars & increased sensitivity to injustice, discrimination & violence of various kinds). But this is not restricted to socio-eco-political issues alone. This is also necessary to understand the pattern of seasons & climate & materials etc. This is what is traditionally known as science which sadly, has been confined to labs & textbook diagrams. To understand the effect of polluted waters on nearby crops is an expansive exploration into local industries, local industrial practices, local water body patterns, local weather, local soils, local crops & farming practices, etc. If this feels like something that is only applicable in non-urban schools, please think again. Pick a city & there is enough opportunity to cover a lot of these in-depth. Perhaps there aren’t agricultural farms within a city. But what about water supply to homes? The opportunity to study these are limitless.

Yet, in addition to these observation-inference excursions, there is a vital need to exercise the voice & opinion of a child in the face of practices & policies of the community & the world. Both the immediate & the extension are vital to grasp. Hence, this “subject” finds representation.

In both, (6) & (7) we explicitly note the need to work in teams. Rarely, if ever, does the real world demand a lone ranger. Schools around the world necessitate a lone performer. We fail to see value in ignoring the role of working in a team. Hence, LEE encourages both individual immersion as well as working in a team, rewarding or reprimanding neither.

8. Reading, writing & representing in different languages/modes about topics that interest you:

This is related to (4) above but goes beyond expressing. This is about communicating & receiving information/perspective/guidance in common ways. Language is often that medium. Different ways are explored to help a child feel the need to read extensively & write articulately in different languages. Many creative ways have been researched & enumerated & hence, I won’t go into those. LEE adopts & adapts whatever works with each child to introduce them to this world of bi-directional communication & expression. This is probably the only element of similarity with traditional curricula — literacy (alphabetic & numeric) expanded to multiple languages. Theatre, movies, picture books & many other means to encourage these are available to LFs to employ in instilling in the child the need for this. With a vast library at its disposal & other multi-media delivery mechanisms, effecting this is one of the “needs of the future” that we are yet to find convincing evidence against.

9. Finding ways to be inclusive & in tune with Nature & other residents of this world:

An extension of (7) is the need to recognise practices of the community & the world which exclude & actively work towards removing them. Exercises, play, activities, studies to expose these & create avenues for dispelling them are vital to education. This is not merely restricted to racial or gender discrimination but also disregard to rural communities (vis a vis urban demands) & deforestation or destruction of pasture lands. It also encompasses necessary considerations into why animals are treated poorly in the community (ties (7) with (4) with (2)) or why women are socially restricted from X (X differing with each community). It exposes the issues of “menial” jobs & “white collar” jobs & the inequity there & creates a safe environment for children to study it & address it. Exercises, play, events, experiments to understand this better (historically, culturally, economically, psychologically, etc.) help the child be better aware of biases & actively resist conditioning.

These 9 serve as sufficient curriculum in LEE. For LFs who have grasped the entirety of LEE, this is well understood. For others, esp. ones transitioning, this serves as a measure to remove the artificially imposed activities on a child.

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