Travel, whatever the circumstances, always offers the opportunity for observation and reflection. So I wanted to offer a few thoughts about travel and education.
I’m in India now, in Jaipur, in somewhat of a miniature re-travel of a previous adventure 11 and so years ago. In 2002, I came here with my dear friend from college and stayed with her Grandmother for about 4 months in Uttarsanda in Gujarat. We moved all over from our hitching post—to Ahmedabad, Goa, Kerala, Jaipur. We started in Mumbai, and I vividly remember our flight landing over thousands of tiny city lights and heading out into the humid rush of everyone and everything of that city on our first night. I think my first picture of that time is what all first pictures of Mumbai are…the city streets in all their chaos. I love that chaos. And, when I left India, I thought, “I can’t believe I am leaving”…and I promised I would be back right away. But time and, well, everything else, as it always does, gets in the way. And over eleven years later, returning, everything made sense again about why I never wanted to leave. I am here for my friend’s wedding now and to return, and making some of the same footpaths as before, tramping around city sights half recollected or histories half listened to, and meeting some of the family and friends I fully remember.
But. I don’t want to get off track, I wanted to offer something in this post about education and observation and reflection. So here are two school stories about things I want to remember about travel and education…and a set of photos—
1) The first story is about something simple: work. When I was here last time, we visited a school for deaf children. An extended relation of my friend’s aunt’s family in Gujarat had a deaf daughter who went to the school, and we went to see what it looked like and how it ran. Considering there was not a lot of government accommodation for people with disabilities or handicap, the school had to run on a small, small budget. It was run out of an old, slim (and small) colonial building with a courtyard in the middle. Inside, classrooms were divided by small room dividers so that two classrooms could be held at the same time. Two teachers and two classrooms made the space work. Each teacher sat in front of a small group of students in a half crescent and lectured; then, they led recitations one by one down the line. When we walked in the room, all the students stood up and greeted us. I was very moved by their strong presence in the class as very hard working students. My most significant memory of this time though was the hallway or passageway between the classrooms. This is where the principal had placed her desk to accommodate two more classrooms in her office. She told us “Why would I need an office?”. After all, she was intimately connected to the students, to the classrooms, to the teachers, not just to administrative work tucked behind a desk or closed door. I think it was a testament to her leadership in the school that she knew exactly what to prioritize in terms of work and how to keep that work close to those she served…and served well.
2) The second story is about age. Sometimes, I am so engrained in the idea of a set path of education: elementary, middle, high school, college, (work or grad), grad, post grad. As a student (34 finishing a PhD), I forget that schooling is not just a linear age progression where one step leads to the next in one large mass or train ride where stop by stop everyone gets on or off. Sometimes, schooling and age and the cycle and way that we pursue it isn’t a perfectly straight line…okay, jumbled and obvious statement. But somehow I am surprised how much I accommodate the narrative of a clear path of education and how limited that way of thinking can be. Here’s the story: I went on a walk with an NGO through the Dharavi slums in Mumbai. This is an incredible city center where commercial activity, residences, organizations, ceramic makers, leather skinners, metal machinery, recycling, tailoring and everything else merges and mixes 24/7. The NGO Reality Tours runs an education and curriculum center in the middle. When we visited the school, a class was in session with about 10 students. In my mind, before we entered, I expected to see young kids. So, I was surprised to find adults ages 20-27 pursuing English education—not for graduate degrees or grade level—but just learning (likely for the potential of reskilling or developing one’s skills). It reminds me that educational systems don’t always have to be standardized practices or structures based on a strict system of grade level and age—small educational structures can also be sites that meet the needs of a small community and whatever they are looking for and want. Sometimes, it is so easy to diagnose what certain age groups need in terms of educational paths and categorize those practices and curriculums…it is so easy to forget that those categories and practices can limit what we provide and who we provide it to. This doesn’t mean get rid of systems and organized processes of education, but I don’t want to forget that alternatives like the community center that serves this small mixed group of adults are important and valuable methods of providing education.
3) Travel pics—I am reminded at these beautiful historical sights how good it is (and educational) to be a visitor…uncertain, outside, somewhat liberated, somewhat pushed along, wowed, bored, engaged, dismissive, aware…we see everything around us more excitedly and more widely…even if we’re clutching friends close to us. Here’s a bunch of pics of school kids touring heritage sites on my own visit…myself a tourist:
Something about the blue uniforms in the park at India Gate in Delhi and the gateway to the Taj Mahal in Agra…
Sometimes the same tan/brown uniforms…Fatehpur Sikri
Sometimes color…Fatehpur Sikri:
Jaigarh Fort, Jaipur:
And us…my mom (kindly) annoyed by our guide’s insistence on yet another shot: