This article emerges out of the experience of a teacher who questions the negligence of important questions such as the meaning of death from our school curriculum and the larger discourse in the field of education.
Gayatri Pattnaik is a retired school teacher – based in Bhubaneswar.
In the contemporary times, when we are all running behind success and achievements, struggling to secure the future and ignoring the present – we seem to be living in the illusionary world where we have ignored very important questions related to the essence of existence.
In this perpetual race from childhood to adulthood, we never think of the crucial questions related to our life and I believe that death is one such important aspect of our life that needs to be discussed again and again.
And it is also important to make our children aware of it rather than to skip it, or leave it manipulated or ignored. The most important question that arises is how we can explain this reality in a more approachable way, and make our children comfortable with this reality and enable them to handle the circumstances that make them confront death.
We constantly witness its critical impact on our children. They are completely unaware of this hard truth and when this reality comes in life they find themselves completely lost. The confrontation with death comes as a blow to the child who is unable to deal with it.
As a teacher I have seen the impact on my students. Our children are completely lost, unable to figure out/handle the situation when this hardship comes in their life.
After experiencing the fact that our children are completely incapable of negotiating and handling with death, I decided to prepare my students to able to face such hardships. I simply want to make them aware of this reality through discussions and reading.
To begin with it is important to understand death in terms of our existence, temporality, beauty of life and the final end of the embodied existence- it is significant to take our children out from the fear psychosis related to death.
I started this discussion with my students. I told them about the beauty of our existence. I asked them about temporality and illusion and we discussed the truth of our present embodiment. This was not a spiritual discourse and I am not a spiritual guru. But as a teacher I felt it was my dharma to make my children prepare for the battle of life – its ups and downs.
Yes, such activities are not mentioned in our school curriculum and our educationists find it irrelevant to discuss such issues with children. And see what has happened as an outcome.
Their parents complained to the school authority as to why this kind of discussion was happening .They asked the authority to take strong action against me. And the authority asked me to behave like a professional teacher instead of doing this unnecessary discussion, finish the given curriculum. I was told that students need to learn math, physics, chemistry and language as this knowledge alone was going to help them in the future and not the discussion on life and death.
In the present scenario it is already too difficult for a teacher to make the authority unhappy and yet retain her job. So I decided to continue my work as a ‘professional’ teacher and work accordingly.
What makes me share this experience with you?
One afternoon, one of my students came to meet me with her mother. Her mother looked at me and I asked them to take their seats and a formal discussion like PTM (Parents Teachers Meeting) started.
Her mother told me that her husband passed away last month. She was in deep pain. She elaborated the crisis in family and how my student handled this tough situation. Her mother repeated that her daughter never let her down and explained to her that it is a part of our life; we all have to pass through it.
She added that for her age it was impossible to have such knowledge about life, its battle and death. She looked at her daughter with watery eyes as her daughter (my student) wiped away her mother’s tears and looked at me.
It was a moment of pain and at the same time that of immense satisfaction. My feeling was incomprehensible but I have cultivated one of my students as a human, who will be able to fight the battle of life more gracefully. As a teacher I have received my highest reward.