The children are observant little beings and they stash away tiny bits of information, bringing them up as and when they have some use for it.
And so it was on a warm September day in 2015 in the SOLE Lab at Phaltan. A group of Grade 4 children (around 10 years old) settled into their regular session with Angele. They looked forward to these sessions and had an ease with her so expressing what was going on in their heads was easy.
Even as they warmed to the session and before they could start on any activity, one of the girls (Tanishka) blurted out – “Are you proud of Hitler?”
Where in the world did that come from?!
Angele was stumped, unsure of how to respond. And it still begged the question as to why the query had popped up in the first place and why the children had put it to her just then.
Angele brought up this incident soon after in one of the ‘catch ups’ I delight in having with the Grannies from time to time. Well, a part of it was not a mystery. The children knew that Angele lived in Germany. That she was British married to a German were subtleties that had no relevance for them. And ‘Germany’ had been in the Indian newspapers for several weeks, albeit in an oblique kind of manner. The declassification of the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose (& of the INA -Indian National Army) files was a matter of animated discussion in many quarters. And since these dated to the World War II era, the reference to ‘Germany and Hitler’ was natural.
So there we were – a BIG question to which there was the relatively simple, straightforward, personal answer – “No”. But it could lead into so much more and open up the possibility of examining one’s beliefs and values. Possibly the biggest questions there are!
Granny sessions don’t always have to be online! So we decided that when I next visited the Phaltan Lab (and fortunately a visit was coming up in under a fortnight) we would involve the entire Grade 4, (not just Angele’s group of 6) in a SOLE session with this question as the lead in.
Imagine a group of 10 year olds with very little English (the home and school language is Marathi), who had had only about 20 Granny sessions over the past 5-6 months, suddenly having one of their very first SOLE sessions on ‘Hitler’!
Grade 4 – Among their very fist SOLE sessions – Hitler! [KNB – Phaltan Sept 2015] [Photo: Suneeta]
I introduced the session with their own query to Angele and was able to confirm during that chat that it was the newspaper items / articles that parents had been heard discussing that were the instigator for their questioning.
SOLE session ‘rules’ shared and the children were off, searching for answers to the modified question to ensure neutrality – “Who was Hitler and what was his impact on the world?” As I observed their search while being dragged from one table to the next, there were many insights into the strategies they used to gather information as they excitedly shared their discoveries. Their search process I will write about another day.
In the process of searching… (KNB – Phaltan – Sept 2015) (Photo: Suneeta)
Because this tale is about what Granny interactions can lead to. Suffice it to say that at the end of 25 minutes the entire group of 4th graders had run the gamut from Hitler’s early and personal life, to the Nazi party, concentration camps, even the Holocaust. And what was really insightful was their conclusion – “We don’t really understand why, but he was a very angry man.” For children who had no familiarity – not with the word – not with the concept, that was a pretty clear description of ‘psychopathology’!
Getting ready to present: They even drew a picture! [Photo: Suneeta]
All about Hitler [Sept2015] [Photo: Suneeta]
The school bell rang. It was time for their recess. Yet many of them lingered in the Lab wanting to ‘explore just one more link’. This is the power of Granny and SOLE sessions together. This is what a seemingly innocuous question can trigger off. ..
Note: Over the years experiences like this one has led the Grannies to consider several other strategies for interaction. Watch out for these blogs next week on The Granny Cloud website.