06 September 2015

‘Labour’ should be a compulsory ‘subject’ in schools

‘Never in our days’ is a frequently uttered ‘observation’ by those who have left an institution, a country or profession. It is something that one hears whenever past pupils of a school gather to reminisce about days gone by. They also talk about how things are in the old school and spend an inordinate amount of time lamenting things-as-they-are-now. 


If there was justification for all such lamentations, then it means that all schools are necessarily in a permanent process of decay and are facing imminent collapse. Indeed, if the horror stories had any basis in reality, some schools must be commended for actually still existing. 

Things are not what they were. All things, as the Buddha said, are subject to the law of anicca or impermanence. They are born, they decay and they perish. The reasonable way of viewing all this is to treat it with equanimity, upekkha. However, this side of walking that unparalleled and clearly fulfilling Noble Eight-Fold Path, we can I suppose get some perspective on what we behold. 

A young friend of mine, a young old boy of Royal College, wrote to me recently. He was livid that the Principal of the school, an old Anandian by the way, was growing pathola (snake gourd) in the quadrangle. The quadrangle, as the name suggests is a piece of lawn of that shape surrounded by the oldest buildings of the school. When I was a student, we used to play French cricket and other games in that area. 

Occasionally, the then Vice Principal, Christie Gunasekara (better known as Kataya) would get errant schoolboys to weed the quadrangle or clear it of scrap paper (there was no polythene then). There were no flowers, no vegetables, just grass. 

My young friend informs me that the Principal had wanted to turn the entire quadrangle into a vegetable garden but that strong objections from the old boys had led to a compromise of sorts. Only a section was ‘taken’ for pathola. That's 'snake gourd'.

‘I don’t have objections to growing, but the quadrangle is a unique place; no other school has one and it’s a creation of British architecture,’ he added. I don’t know how true his claims are about uniqueness and I certainly don’t thing there’s a lot to celebrate about British architecture apart from the fact that buildings grow on you and feed nostalgia, regardless of source of architectural inspiration. 

I referred him to Tennyson’s famous poem on the death of King Arthur, in particular the following lines: ‘The old order changeth, yielding place to new and god fulfills himself in many ways; lest one good custom should corrupt the world’ (if I remember right). If the character of a school is overly dependent on its architecture, then it is sad, I think. Also, there’s nothing wrong in change if there’s something positive that is conferred upon the student population. 

I remembered an interview in one of the TV channels a few years ago, where the Principal, Upali Gunasekera, spoke about his ‘agricultural drive’.  He said that initially there was a lot of objection from parents, teachers, old boys and students but this had changed after some time. Royal College, by the way, was adjudged one of the most innovative schools in the entire world recently. 

What’s wrong, I thought. It is good for children to have their hands touch soil now and then, feel the Earth, learn some of its many lessons. It is good that they understand what labour is because whatever career they embrace later in life they will encounter labour and would appreciate better the hardships associated. 

I remember hating Kataya for getting me to pick up scrap paper in the quadrangle, but I learnt the virtues of keeping common spaces clean. It is a matter of respecting one’s fellow creatures, is it not? 

I was told recently about another ‘agricultural school’; Lindsay Balika, Bambalapitiya. This school, close to the sea, has a unique program. The children engage in a recycling project and deposit proceeds in savings accounts, learning early in life the virtues of thrift and credit. 

By the time they leave school they will not be penniless and can help parents prepare them for higher education. As important, they have turned the entire school into a vegetable garden, I am told. 

The Principal, with the support of the A/L Logic teacher, has mobilized the students for this purpose. I was told that when one walks into the school, it is like walking into a home garden in Bandarawela.

‘No flowers?’ I asked. ‘No’ I was told. I remembered something my father said about 20 years ago. He frequently laments that he has been denied gardening rights for 30 years. He wanted to turn the front part of the garden into a vegetable plot. My mother objected. She kept it pretty. I didn’t take sides, but I think that it would have been no less pretty had there been vegetables instead or even a 50-50 compromise. 

The lesson is not just about aesthetics, as I pointed out. Good to work. Good to touch the Earth. Good to learn something about the laws of nature. 

My little daughter doesn’t like leaving food on the table. She tells me that her great grandfather had once said he had used 100 beads of sweat to make each grain of rice. If students at Royal College can learn that, it’s an invaluable lesson and one that will shape how they will see the world and engage with it wherever they go after leaving school.

As for pathola in the quadrangle, surely there are more important things for people to worry about? Would a different vegetable make more sense? How about gotukola and mukunuwenna and thampala instead of croutons? Would someone object to that? Royal College is a big school. Lots of space. I am sure the quadrangle can be spared if it means so much to the objectors. On the other hand, I doubt if anyone can come up with an argument so compelling as to stop this agricultural drive of the Principal. 

First published in the 'Daily News' (Monday, November 16, 2009) to which newspaper I used to contribute a daily column called 'The Morning Inspection'.

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1 comments:

sbarrkum said...

but the quadrangle is a unique place; no other school has one and it’s a creation of British architecture

S. Thomas College has a pretty cool quad as its called.
During the early 70's it was dug up to plant sweet yams (bathala).

It was pretty stupid, more for show.
There was plenty of room all over the place to grow stuff.

The flash pages show the quad
http://www.stcmount.edu.lk/