By Ashish Jaiswal

Charles Kettering, with more than 300 US patents under his belt sent the scholars rushing for covers when he paradoxically stated that an inventor is someone who 'doesn't take his education too seriously'. But then that's what happens when quotes are read out of context or perhaps when movies are taken too seriously. To update, Kettering was an electrical engineer himself.

The blatancy with which few schools suggested to alter their pedagogical approach after watching 'Taare Zameen Par', a Bollywood film that questions the current education system for not promoting creativity, puts my wit to test. I am sure by now Vygotsky would have started turning in his grave and the likes of Dewey, Piaget, Skinner, Russell, etc. would be on their knees pleading them to be au fait with the theories of teaching and learning and philosophical underpinnings in situ before taking any oblivious step. Nevertheless, if the schools are hell bent I request them to keep reading, however, with the admonition that the attempt is more to enlighten than to entertain.

From pedagogical perspective, TZP appears to elucidate three key issues – one, the incompetency of our educational institutions and somewhat conscious reluctance of parents to identify and appropriately educate dyslexics; second, the conflict of left side and right side of a brain i.e. the tension between the cognitive and the hormic, as Plato or Aristotle would have put and third, the issue of every child being 'special'.

First thing first, TZP seems to suggest (and this may be purely unintentional) a correlation between dyslexia and artistic inclination, however, till date, no such connection has been empirically established. Dyslexia is a specific learning challenge with specific remedial measures. The fact that Ishaan Awasthy, the protagonist, considered other subjects daunting vis-à-vis sketching was far more to do with him having a 'creative' slant than being a dyslexic. A dyslexic child is as likely to become a scientist, or a businessman as he is to become an actor or a painter cēterīs pāribus. Therefore, before you start putting a brush and snatching a pen from every dyslexic's hand, be wary, you might be missing on a future Thomas Edison, Graham Bell or even Albert Einstein.

In endemic terms, Ishaan was more creative than logical and hence, in theory, more likely to succeed in arts than science. The quandary is that nobody can justify this alignment with surety. Science requires both kinds and so does arts. To identify whether a child is creative or logical is again a tough ask. Theory of creativity is too broad and heterogeneous. Scholars have suggested a creative person to be original, flexible and with experimental attitude, qualities that almost always put such person in a position of confrontation with society which is full of, as Robert Locke said, 'practical-men'. And these well aware practical-men are no one but our parents and teachers in schools. The important thing to understand here is that their unconscious dissuasion to take untested route is more out of their love for us. If they were to choose between a failed painter and a mediocre salaried, you know what they would choose for their children. And this is what leads us to our last issue.

The facet which takes TZP away from the realms of reality is the giftedness of Ishaan Awasthy. Someone who can create a flicker book at the age of eight is without question 'special'. However, the real challenge facing teachers is when you get someone like him minus the 'special' element. What you tell to the rest of the three thousand odd unnamed children who too gathered in the climax scene to paint alongside Ishaan? In fact, in the burgeoning world of hero worship the biggest challenge faced by every one of us everyday is how to survive as an average.

As a film, TZP is a sensitive, earnest and inspiring attempt deserving all applauds. About Oscars? Perhaps, they have all seen the Dead Poets Society and had already made up their Dangerous Minds.


(The writer is a doctorate from University of Oxford and an Associate Fellow at Oxford Center for Higher Education Policy Studies)
www.ashishjaiswal.com