At a brief hello-hello meeting with a senior publisher of the Oxford University Press, China, I said, “Well, at least this handshake is Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai.” “What’s that,” he asked, marking his youth. So, marking my vintage, I described the daydream of the 1960s and launched into the waking and sleeping preoccupation of many teachers and parents: how to raise ethical and empathetic children, introducing them to the dangers of conflicts which, beginning in the neighbourhood, could spread outward into uncontrollable conflagrations.
Children around the world are increasingly affected by violence, growing social problems and a lack of respect shown both in public and private. Adults in many countries are asking for help to reverse this alarming trend.
There are as many value education programmes as there are communities and civilisations. Closely linked to classroom discussions, story-telling for the very young and real-life anecdotes for older children have been designed to motivate students to think about themselves, others, the world around them and values. They stimulate the experience of thinking about values and build inner resources to protect the mind while recognising and stabilising strong emotions.
Every human being faces a constant problem: how to make the most of life and be happy. There is no simple solution because living is the most difficult of all the arts and depends on individual circumstances and traits. In childhood and early youth, we are too immature to realise that long-term happiness depends on making others happy as well.
Two thousand years ago, Rabbi Hillel was asked if he could stand on one leg and recite the Torah. He said that no such display was necessary as all of the Torah could be summed up in one instruction: treat others as you yourself wish to be treated.
How does a teacher who has had no training save her own concerns and reflections begin to teach her students that they might be empowered by making friends, making allies and guarding against discrimination of different kinds? Meredith Donnelly, who published Open Hearts, Open Minds, introduced her book saying that when she began her career, she was under the false mindset that her job was to teach academic skills. “When I started working with children, I realised that children are organic beings and do not fit on a page in an academic curriculum.” Her mission she understood was to expand the world views of her students, to help them see past their own experiences and develop an understanding of children quite unlike themselves.
We need teachers to hold the other ends of the safety net that parents set up when they have children.