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!


Smita said...

Sounds like a lovely book! U know couple of days back we were having a similar discussion at home. HOw much pressure is ok for a kid!!!

bouncingbubble said...

Avdi-I loved the way you went about reviewing this one the best. I confess here that I sink in thoughts now and then about my child's future. I AM reading this bk for sure.

avdi said...

Smita - I think children have different levels of taking pressure. Some children may thrive on it, some not.

BB - Yes, there is nothing not to like about this book. And like I said every Parent and ahem ahem.. every parent to be should read this book.

Priya Iyer said...

sounds lovely and definitely worth a read.. you inspired me enough to pick up this one some time soon :) thanks for the wonderful review!! looks like the book touched you quite a bit!

Capt. Anup Murthy said...

I did not know this was a true story. I agree with all the concepts provided in your review and your summary. I think it is an Asian thing to put so much pressure on kids to succeed, same story in Singapore where I live and right through Asia. I did not see this kind of pressure on kids in the US where I spent many many of my initial years. Even asian kids in US undergo such pressures from families though, leading to more problems..as it is those kids are ABCD (American Born Confused Desis). This is a cultural thing, asian kids probably succeed more academically there though but at what cost and do they lose a bit of themselves in this process is what is to be seen I guess. There's my 2 cents worth!

avdi said...

Priya, it is available on free ebooks too. Yes, you cant help but be touched by Totto-Chan.

avdi said...

Anup, yes its a true story. At the end of the book Tetsuko tells us how she came to write this story.

You are so right about Asian parents putting pressure on children to excel. In some ways it is good, if the child can take it.

My daughter had a friend in school, even when she was in a very junior class, 1st or something like that, I saw her mother hit her for not getting a better score. It was heart-rending. Much later, when my daughter passed her 10th, I heard that other girl had failed. I have a feeling it the girl's mother had not pushed her so, she might have been a good average student.

Ashwin Baindur said...

Lovely to know there is such a book. Must get it for my spouse Amita, who is a fine educator.

Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Education is very important no doubt, I wonder whether we are going about this in the right way. I am not convinced that the present system that generates more of students who memorize/pass by rote than understand the subjects they are studying, is a good system. Parents perhaps want their children to be something, as most Asians, mostly engineering or medicine and perhaps a new addition in management studies. Nothing beyond that! why don't parents try to understand the child's needs and perhaps a child's talent that perhaps one who is a poor student has perhaps a great talent in music or the arts or sports or something else? Is formal education, as we know it here and now, the right way to "educate"? I suppose I have digressed a lot! Just a thought..just remembered Kapil Sibal's efforts!

Capt. Anup Murthy said...

So sorry I have written the word "perhaps" too many times in the same sentence and did not realize it! Hehe..my apologies..

YOSEE said...

Sounds like an amazing work. I wish Kapil Sibal would make it mandatory reading for parents and teachers .

The Eastern approach to gaining knowledge has always been associated with burdensome work. It involved hours and hours of strenuous abhyasa. Think of the ancient schools where everything needed to be memorised ( shruthi) ! We, here, are still in the same mode of rote learning.
Just a month ago, though, much was written about Obama's praise for the learning systems of the East. His actual words to his country's kids (for whom schooling means enjoying the process of learning , very unlike ours) was, " better start putting more effort, else, kids from Bangalore or Beijing will edge you out."
I was shocked to hear some people use this report to justify pressurising kids to perform optimally :-(

avdi said...

Ashwin, the book is available in a free ebook form. I will mail it to you.

avdi said...

Anup, nice to know someone else agonises over writing style like me. I have often written something, mailed it and then been on pins and needles because I had used a wrong preposition or something.

Why parents dont let their children follow their own dreams? Because they are scared that they will amount to nothing, and become destitute. It is merely fear.

Which is why I liked Wake Up Sid. It had a similar concept, but without the preachiness of Taare Zameen Par.

avdi said...

Yosee, I read the book first in late 80s. It was published by some educator in a very basic format, white cover, no embellishment, and passed on to us as a complimentary copy. I read it and was charmed by it. I do think it coloured my opinion of my children's education.

For a long time, there was no information on the net about this book, also because I used to search for Toto Chan and not Totto-Chan. But ultimately, some people put up pages on the wikipedia, and the book itself became available on ebook for free.

I feel its a book everyone should read.

avdi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Priya Iyer said...

can u email me a copy of this book pls, if it is not a trouble for you?

avdi said...

not a bit Priya. Was planning to email it to some of my frns anyway.

my email id is avasuri at gmail.com. you can email me..

couchpapaya said...

Wow, thanks for reviewing, will look for it asap! Nowadays (atleast in Bangalore) a lot of schools offering just such a curriculum, ie. no pressure and allowing the child to learn at their own pace, have been founded. Atleast, it's a step in the right direction. However, these schools work abroad where the education system is different and where anyone might literally pursue anything. I really wonder how these kids stand up to the pressures of the Indian undergrad degrees?

Anonymous said...

A friend recommended this book to me when my daughter was called hyperactive and disruptive by her teachers.

Really an eye-opener and made me feel so much more better about her as well as my parenting skills. That teacher actually said that I needed to spank her more.

After reading this book, I changed my daughter to another school, and she is doing so much better now :)

I didn't review this book on my blog because the whole issue was too personal for me at that time, but I am glad you read it and reviewed it in such a lovely way.

INDIAN TIGER ....... "Save The Earth" said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
"Kedar A. Bhartiya said...

Actuly my mother (Veena A. Bhartiya )read this book and she get very much impress by this book..
On the occasion of her b'day she told this story to her friends n all of them also get fond of this book and very much anxious to read this book..
Really this book gives us the real meaning of "unconventional education"..
I wish to tottochan for her rest life !!!

avdi said...

Thanks for reading and sharing Kedar.

lolipop said...

gud book i m litrally fan of this book and i m just 12 years old......

lolipop said...

gud book i m litreally fan of this book and i m just 12 years old

avdi said...

Lollipop: God bless you.

Mangesh Jagtap said...

TOTO chan book is really good book. Every school should refer his book as new teaching media. This is new way of educating children.

design by suckmylolly.com