How to train your Dragon(s) ?

This is a cry for help — not one of those “desperate, spine-tingling” shrieks from horror flicks, but a “soft, sad cry “, one which is directed at all those dead philosophers who pondered over this insoluble problem — How do you train your dragons ?

Now, I have a wonderful Weyr / Clan / Rage (insert-appropriate-collection-of-dragon-epithet) of 26 dragons. They are in the third year of their long training regime — a long way from maturity, and as you would expect, are wilful , as fickle as a human-youngling who is in love with Justin Beiber , curious and unfortunately — well indoctrinated in antiquated Dragon-religions. They refuse to listen to reason, are implacable and sometimes threaten to burn me to cinders (call their parents and tell them about my heretical tendencies).

Lareb , Saqib , Samiya, Rida, Rabiya, Aqib, Hurum, Adeeba , Sharia, Farzan, Sameer, Usman, Kehkashan, Mehak, Fatima, Nida, Wasil, Samir, Iqra, Faizan, Danish, Zaid, Md. Zaid, Kaif, Junaid and Masnoon.   An awe-inspiring, august gathering indeed!

My personal belief in rationality, free thinking finds itself woefully inadequate when I face these young hatchlings — so steeped in ancient wisdom that they think they are turning me ! They have told me, with unbelievably straight faces, that I am a Hindu and there is an invisible demon hovering over my head ! They are wrong about the location by a few inches — I confess to the demons within. Obviously, they have the Q’uran to protect them, while I, miserably devoid of monotheistic faith and terribly skeptical about my own — am lurching in the wind, waiting for hell — they told me. And the justifications are elegant and beautiful — Mom has told them. Mother Dragons are always right, you see! Ghosts, Genies, Djinns and a variety of supernatural entities fog their minds and whet their appetite for more superstition. I intend to change that.

My dragons will be scientific warriors of the Light.  They will be thinkers, philosophers and critics of social dogmas and prejudices. They will wax eloquent on abstract notions of justice, morality — they will question ideas and institutions of power and inequality. They will be the Nietzsches, Chomskys, the Foucaults, the Russells of the future. No Sauron, no Dark Lord, no Nazgul shall threaten their existence. They shall be free. And that is my Fellowship!

(I am no reluctant Frodo, or awkward Harry. But I am in need of Gandalf .)

Now the questions that I need to address are these —

1. How do I ensure that the thinking process, the scientific method, is inculcated in every child ?

I have two good ideas.

The first one is to divide them into groups — each powerfully titled with champion Dragons of antiquity — Nietzsche, Russell, Chomsky/Foucault/Gandhi etc. The younglings  are introduced to ideas from each and they understand and discuss these ideas with each other. The objective for each group is to explain to the others the thoughts of their Thinker-Dragon-Godfather (Nietzsche, Russell etc.) I have planned a series of age-appropriate ideas from each of these thinkers to be introduced in due course with activities that illustrate their value.

This can beget a lot of discussion, critical thinking in class over time. But I have a concern. The hatchlings are young and malleable. And as it so happens in a group scenario (as Nietzsche would point out), the individual gets lost and group identities begin to dominate. I do not want young dragons steeped in the mannerisms of yonder — identifying with the past, moulding themselves to it. I do not want hero-worship. It is heresy to free thinking. (Even typing it in my blog is heretical ..just kidding!) The group-dynamics have their virtues and vices. I have to be careful.

The second idea tackles the more serious problem of dogmatic, religious thinking clouding the perceptions of my dragons. How do you bestow scientific temper to these kids ? Without getting Mummy Dragon so enraged that the Fellowship falls of a cliff on Mount Doom ! Till now, I have taken the meek-cowardly-and-subtle approach of not sharing my flagrant opinions with the class. The easy and dangerous path is to proclaim to the class that — “Believe not. In religion, does Master Yoda/Ashish”. But that would enrage these volatile beings so much that existence itself would be threatened.

The other way is to provide a simple method : which I discovered after long hours of rigorous research, which entailed talking to my long-time co-conspirator Tanmai or “Le Coq” ,as he is affectionately called .. then laughing about lots of offensive things with him and finally posting it here for approval from my conspiratorial blog-readers! Here is his idea —

Tanmai : What if you ask them to forget thinking for itself. Focus only on Math, Language and Scientific Technique.

Hypotheses, Test, Verify, Loop.

The key point is not curiosity and questioning everything, but how to think about things when they have an answer. It is a little more subtle. That way everyone doesn’t just start asking useless questions. 

They’ll ask, or rather think, only about questions that can be tested. Which will serve them well, till they can guard themselves against indoctrination.

Finding out reasons, testing out theories and only testable theories, seems like a good plan. I look forward to seeing the results of these two ideas in action.

The next question —

2. What about the idea that I am imposing my sets of values/aspirations on impressionable dragons? How appropriate is that ?

There is no right answer, as it always is, with all the right questions. But since I have the onus of training these dragons, I shall do what I see fit. As Russell once said ” I will not die for my beliefs. Because I might be wrong. ” Free thinking gives you leeway, you are un-dogmatic about your own dogmas. I do not think any of this will be perfect. And I give myself the flexibility to change tack when things begin going haywire. The philosophy of education has, and will always be, open to debate. But I have more pressing matters rather than be mired in self-doubt. I have dragons to train.

Two years later, they shall unleash Chaos on the World !

A deep thought on Best Educational Practices by Jack Handey

“Children need encouragement. If a kid gets an answer right, tell him it was a lucky guess. That way he develops a good, lucky feeling.”