Contrary to common belief, the meaning of the word education is not to ‘give knowledge or wisdom’.
Education comes from the base word EDUCE which means- Bring out or develop (something latent or potential). Edutation, therefore, doesn’t refer to a giving of knowledge or wisdom, it refers to drawing out the inner knowledge and wisdom of a person.
To trust our own selves is the most difficult thing to do. We distrust our own opinions and wisdom. We turn a deaf ear to our inner wisdom. We spurn our intuition only because it is OUR intuition. That’s when a true Educator can make all the difference in the world.
An educator can empower you. When you have no faith in your abilities, she believes in them completely. Her belief gives you the faith to step forward. You take on a challenge egged on by her belief. Only you are surprised when you win through. She is only pleased. Then she gives you a bigger challenge, knowing you will win this time too. And on it goes.
My mother was an educator in the truest sense of the word. She was a professor of English in the oldest college of the city.
She would provoke her students and inspire them to speak up. When discussing the verses of Elliot or Shelly or Keats, she expected her students to understand and explain the verses to her. Her classrooms were discussion forums with her as the moderator.
She kept herself aloof when the war would be raging in her class. Smiling a little, as if secretly pleased at the passion she had unleashed, she would stand leaning against the teacher’s table. When the debates got too impassioned, she would be the referee. She made sure there was fair play and everyone got a chance to say what they thought the poet was trying to convey.
When introducing one of the Bard’s plays, her technique was unconventional. Playacting was a major part of the class. Once the work had been read and deciphered, she would pick one act from the play and the class would enact it. That’s when she would ask the actors and spectators what the characters were feeling. She led them gently into the character and let them absorb their emotional world. Years later, people remembered her and the magic she invoked in the classroom.
She would never spoon- feed; neither her students nor I, her daughter, was ever given anything. She refused to help me with my homework. To do that would have been tantamount to encouraging mental laziness. She could have helped me write my school essays. For her, it would have been the work of minutes. She flatly refused.
All she consented- nay condescended- to do was to correct the essays I wrote painstakingly. I would write an essay, get it corrected, re-write, get it corrected, re-write…. and on it went until I got tired of it. I once wrote an essay on The benefits of Science. I re- wrote it thirteen times. I didn’t show it to her after that. I was sick of it. I was twelve at that time. I never consulted her for any of my essays after that.
When I was seventeen, my English teacher told me that my thought process was well- developed, my vocabulary excellent and my grammar impeccable. Pleased, when I conveyed this to Ma, she said, “Obviously. What’s the big deal about it? It had to be excellent. I would have disowned you if you were mediocre.”
She was never one for pretty speeches. Her praise- when rarely it came- was spoken matter of factly. She gave you to understand that she expected you to do what she thought you could do because, after all, she couldn’t be wrong, could she? It would be so beneath her dignity to be mistaken!
She expected me to be intelligent, so I was. She could never suffer fools gladly and so expected me to be quick on the uptake; I was. She hated to do other people’s thinking for them for she had enough of her own to do. As a consequence, I had to think for myself and to set the limits to my own sky.
She didn’t always agree with me. There were times she disagreed vehemently. But if she thought I was determined to do what I had decided to, she would not thwart me. In many an introspective hour since she has passed on, I have wondered if her disagreement wasn’t just a means to deepen my resolve. I have wondered if all her arguments weren’t in fact a way to give strength to my own belief in what I had decided to do. With her strident voice of dissent, was she not defending my right to be wrong if I so chose?
Autonomy, independence and choice were never just words to her.
My mother was a hurricane. She was called Hulchul (Commotion, disturbance in Hindi) by her teachers. I wrote about it in The Hulchul.