Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Totto-Chan, The Girl in the Window, Tetsuko Kuroyanagi

What do parents do when they realize that their child can not fit into a normal school? Where is a child to go if he cannot be affiliated to a school or college? What will children do if they do not score good grades? What kind of a life will they have when they have to be on their own?

Surely these questions have plagued all parents, especially when they see that their child is not in the top bracket. Some parents try to turn their children into machines, forever at their books. Children are scolded if their grades are not up to the expectations of their parents.

What does a child feel when faced with all this? When they find themselves being forever pushed to do what they are unwilling to.

On the other hand, aren’t children the flower of this earth? Shouldn’t they be allowed to grow and prosper at their own pace?

The most important question of all is what is more important, knowledge or education?

Many educated people will agree that knowledge is more important, it is more important to let a child learn at his own pace, that material possessions are immaterial. But how many people have the courage to let their child tread on a path of his own making. When faced with the crucial issue, it is easy to wish that one’s child lands a place in a prestigious university, taking up a course that will lead to a cushy job.

We have seen this issue under a scanner in movies like Taare Zameen Par and Wake Up Sid. But before all this came a lovely little book called Totto-Chan

The heroine of this book is a little child called Totto Chan who is expelled from first grade because she keeps disrupting the whole class. The worried mother hears of a school run by eminent educator Sosaku Kobayashi, which is different. Instead of foisting its system on the child, it adjusts to the need of each child. This is a school where the personality of the child is what matters, everything else is secondary. Totto-Chan’s mother hopes her child will be accepted here, and is able to get some education without the stigma of being expelled. What she forgets is that the child should like the school too.

When she saw the gate of the new school, Totto-chan stopped. The gate of the school she used to go to had fine concrete pillars with the name of the school in large characters. But the gate of this new school simply consisted of two rather short posts that still had twigs and leaves on them.

"This gate's growing," said Totto-chan. "It'll probably go on growing till it's taller than the telephone poles!"

The two "gateposts" were clearly trees with roots. When she got closer, she had to put her head to one side to read the name of the school because the wind had blown the sign askew.

"To-mo-e Ga-ku-en."

Totto-chan was about to ask Mother what “Tomoe” meant, when she caught a glimpse of something that made her think she must be dreaming. She squatted down and peered through the shrubbery to get a better look, and she couldn't believe her eyes.

"Mother, is that really a train! There, in the school grounds!"

For its classrooms, the school had made use of six abandoned railroad cars. To Tottochan it seemed something you might dream about. A school in a train!

The windows of the railroad cars sparkled in the morning sunlight. But the eyes of the rosy-cheeked little girl gazing at them through the shrubbery sparkled even more.

“I Like This School!”

Here is how Totto Chan’s interview with her headmaster went.

With a hasty bow, Totto-Chan asked him spiritedly "What are you, a schoolmaster or a stationmaster?"

Mother was embarrassed, but before she had time to explain, he laughed and replied, "I'm the head-master of this school."

Totto-Chan was delighted. "Oh, I'm so glad," she said, “because I want to ask you a favor. I'd like to come to your school.”

The headmaster offered her a chair and turned to Mother. "You may go home now. I want to talk to Totto-Chan."

Totto-Chan had a moment's uneasiness, but somehow felt she would get along all right with this man. "Well, then, I’ll leave her with you," Mother said bravely, and shut the door behind her as she went out.

The headmaster drew over a chair and put it facing Totto-Chan, and when they were both sitting down close together, he said, "Now then, tell me all about yourself. Tell me anything at all you want to talk about."

"Anything I like?" Totto-Chan had expected him to ask questions she would have to answer. When he said she could talk about anything she wanted, she was so happy she began straight away. It was all a bit higgledy-piggledy, but she talked for all she was worth.

Never ever was Totto-Chan’s hyperactive behaviour, which got her expelled from her first school, mentioned. Rather, every time the headmaster encounters Totto-Chan he pats her on the head and calls her a good little girl.

The children are allowed to study in the order that they like. They are not punished for being inattentive, and are not required to follow a curriculum. They are encouraged to learn more by practical means. If they have to learn about botany, what better way than to spend a day in the fields with the farmers and grow something of their own? Sports day’s are organized in such a way that the handicapped children win prizes. Children take turns to speak on a topic every day after lunch. There are ballet classes too. They are organized in such a way that the children feel these are fun events instead of a burdensome chore.

Totto-Chan grew up to become a famous TV personality Tetsuko Kuroyanagi. She attributed her success to the valuable lessons she learnt in this school. The book was her tribute to her beloved old teacher, Sosaku Kobayashi. The book became a huge bestseller and Tetsuko instituted a Totto-Chan trust out of the proceeds that undertakes education of deaf children.

Our children are our most precious thing. In our eagerness to produce a clone of several other successful models, don’t we push them to alter their personalities? It would be so much better to have children with distinct personalities who lead happy lives doing things they love.

It is absolutely imperative for every parent to read this book once.

Tomoe School is a wonderful school;

Inside and out, it's a wonderful school!

design by suckmylolly.com