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Saturday, 07 September 2019 16:25

The Miracle Worker

An educator versus a bad behaved girl. The first one wants to teach something, the second one wants everything as she wishes.  The educator uses all the means possible. The girl though behaves like a little terrorist or a wild animal from the bushes. Sounds familiar? No, it is not a description of a lesson at school.

The film entitled “The Miracle Worker” form 1962 shows a true story of Hellen Keller, a deaf- mute and blind girl and her teacher. We cannot really say who is the main hero – Annie Sullivan, the teacher, a strong and stubborn woman, who has just finished education herself , or maybe a 7-year-old child, who is as stubborn and intelligent as her new teacher. The whole film presents a continuous battle between the two of them.The movie can be the basis for the reflection on various aspects of teaching, child’s behaviour, handicaps, communication, etc. I would like to focus only on one of them.

I’ve been working with children for about 10 years. I’ve been teaching in kindergartens, private and public schools, and wherever I was, I’ve seen the same problem. There has always been a kid or two who were in certain aspects similar to Hellen – closed in their worlds, but at the same time trying really hard to communicate with others. Unfortunately, unable to do it in a conventional way, they use the only means that is effective for them – misbehaving.

There are innumerate titles of books and articles about misbehavior and its causes. It can be the lack of education as such, missing parents, overprotecting parents, TV, video games, the Internet, lack of movement or  incompetent teachers. The list is long and everyone can add their own idea. Probably each one of them has got some truth. But that is the world now and we cannot just make a fence around ourselves and pretend it does not exist. We can change our small world close to us, but we will not change our neighbor and his ways of raising up his kids. I will not be able to choose children to be in my class either. Nor I will be able to sterilize the space around me from those impacts. Mission impossible?

Annie Sullivan could also think like that. She was literally trying to use all means to tame Hellen. Sometimes she even used means that today would put her into big troubles with law and organisations specialised in the protection of children's rights. That time (the end of the 19th century) she did not have to worry about that and at certain point she was able to make the girl behave like a civilized human being. Helen started eating with a fork from her own plate, stopped screaming when she wanted to get something and started to comb herself and wear clan dresses. How many times I’ve had this thought during a difficult lesson: I wish Mike behaved normal just for 5 minutes, or just till the end of the lesson Ann stopped talking and sit still.  Would it work? Maybe for that 5 minutes. Annie intuited that those kind of changes in behavior would never be true, because they are based on taming, forcing. Initially it can be helpful, we have to start from something. But while reflecting on this the Platoe’s Cave came into my mind. Me – the teacher, I will set you free and lead you to the gates of the real world. It will not work properly. The pupil will soon come back to where he came from, because it is familiar to him. The real escape from the cave can occur only when the pupil on his own will set himself free from the chains, then stand up, turn around and start walking. The educator is needed as a companion, but he cannot make this “click” in the student. This happens only in and by the student him or herself. It is a kind of a miracle. It can be explained on the bases of an example. Imagine somebody wants to explain us a riddle. He/ she tries to explain it 4-5 times, each time in a different way and we still cannot understand it. Suddenly something “clicks”. Eureka! We got it, and we do not know how and why it had been impossible earlier. The teacher is important a lot, he/she explains, gives arguments, bases or conditions for making it possible to understand. But he/she cannot force this “jump” to happen, just needs to be there, patient, accompanying, supporting, always trying, because it is never clear when this miracle will happen. The film shows it in a perfect way, that is why each educator should see it.

Where should we look for the forces to be such a patient supporter who always keeps trying? I think that for us, Christians, the answer is one. Although  it is not always the simplest one. Sometimes we lack patience because “it is easier the other way”, “I don’t have time”, “it’s pointless”, “there are still 20 other kids”… However, despite discouragement that comes and goes away, we need to believe that it is worth it. Jesus also “sowed” and kept walking. Sometimes the Word was wasted, but let us see how much of it remained and now, 2000 years later, keeps giving the fruit? Being a teacher without this faith, that one day something can “click”, is pointless. And who knows how many times a mediocre teacher has become “a miracle worker” without even knowing?
Published in IN DIALOGUE
Tuesday, 04 June 2019 12:44

Missionaries always and everywhere

I lived for six years in a beautiful forest of Karnataka, where I helped to found a school for children of different age and religion, in partnership with families and teachers. The lush, the coconut trees laden with fruit, the voices and the colours of many different birds, the dance of the peacocks when they open the tail, the buzz of the bees and the scent of honey, the Red Sun in the morning and the Golden Moon in the evening everything was a hymn to the Creator and all creation was in place.

In this delightful setting arrived at around 9 am, 9 coach loads of kids and teenagers, collected from remote villages in the forest, and the whole day was with them, our joy was watching them grow, learn and play, until in the evening everyone left and we would return to the voices of the forest.

Now here at Chembur life is different, and the air is not so good. We opened a small community on the outskirts of Mumbai, where pollution has grown in recent years (chemical industries, heavy traffic, proximity of the landfill). Residents have tried to solicit government environmental clean-up measures, so far without success. With the rise of the pollution the wealthy have fled to the neighborhood, but the fall in rents has attracted many new inhabitants, so much so that between a skyscraper and the other under a corrugated sheet, metal, plastic brick are people evicted from more expensive neighborhoods, displaced from the countryside, immigrants from other states, fleeing from famine and violence. The plurality of ethnic groups, religions and languages makes it difficult to communicate even among neighbors.

The great urgency is the instruction and integration. Here the Christian minority is yeast rich in life and a Catholic school, Nursery to secondary, populated by students from each language, ethnicity and religion, is a seedbed of a new generation. In the classrooms, in the hallways, in the great lawn, hundreds of school children and their teachers learn to talk to each other and to interact with joy and mutual respect, and also education for environmental stewardship is part of school curricula, are the hope of Chembur.

One cannot understand and love from a distance. So our new place of mission, chaotic and multiform, I get no less splendid Karnataka forest. In traffic and in multitudes moving during the day, and around every light that shines at night like a crib, I know there are creatures maybe not that aesthetically beautiful as those of the forest, but infinitely loved by God; and now that I'm here I'm happy to share the daily life and therefore also the hardships and risks of pollution. "Missionaries always and everywhere," said Luigia Tincani: one more time, I experience the truth of these words.
 
Published in IN DIALOGUE

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About Us

Union “St. Catherine of Siena” of School Missionaries is a Dominican Religious Congregation.
We are called to accompany our contemporaries along their path with study and prayer and to seek along with them Gospel’s answers to the questions of our complex, multicultural society.
We want to live therefore coherently a Christianity of frontiers and be yeast and salt of the least visibility yet cause to leaven and give flavor.  
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