Book: Imagine: No Child Left Invisible
Writer: Shelja Sen
Publishers: Harper Collins
Price: Rs 350
Imagine by Shelja Sen has a beautiful tagline to start you off on a journey. “No Child left Invisible.” It brought tears to my eyes because I imagined all the invisible children whom I have glanced at, through years of working through my programme, Literature in Action. Glanced at, looked through, ignored, through actions that were not meant to cause pain, but probably did.
Imagine is an important book. One that educators, parents and anyone concerned with the healthy upbringing of children should not only read, but possess. To go back to every now and then and flip through a few pages as a gentle reminder of those invisible children. It is not necessarily a cover to cover read, but more of a reference as we step through life.
“Child-centric” is an oft-touted word in education circles, as is “creative learning”. What we don’t realise is that we often put the young in our care into the centre of unwanted attention and unmindful comments as well. Sen talks about the culture of shaming. At workshops, she asks teachers “do you use shame as a teaching strategy?” and the answer is always a vehement “no” — as was mine. Then she asks if they have ever used any of these statements in the class (or at home with our own children): “You are just lazy”, “you are too slow”, “you are irresponsible”, “why can’t you keep up?”, “you are wasting your time and your parents’ money”.
The list is more extensive. I was horrified, as she reports, are teachers, as we realise how much we use shame in the name of guidance and discipline. I recall one of my daughter’s teachers who had called her a shunya — a zero — when she was in the second grade. Today, my daughter is a film producer, an entrepreneur and this teacher is probably still traumatising young kids. I look back and realise that I have been both a victim of shaming as well as a perpetrator and simply saying that one didn’t know better does not make it any less a crime.
Imagine makes us examine our roles in the lives of our children and their emotional and mental growth. For me, the big takeaway has been that one has to be constantly vigilant of how we speak to and treat young people so that no one is left feeling that they are invisible or unworthy.
In her study, Sen has devised a power pyramid where she identifies the factors that diminish us. The acronym is frighteningly, DISGRACEFULL which stands for Disability, Intelligence, Sexual orientation, Gender, Race, Age, Culture, Ethnicity, Finances, Useful contacts, Looks and Language. Honestly, we can identify with each of these factors and can probably find an example not very far away from our own lives. The speakers of English will be more visible and have better access to opportunity than non-English speakers — thus, most colleges in Delhi University require a minimum of 60 per cent in English to apply for most Honours courses. At least, it was so a few years ago. Similarly, contacts will get you further and race will define you. A friend who was on the jury of a major beauty pageant told us that jury members were trained to recognise those facets that the white male would find most attractive. Again, this may hopefully have changed since, but it still holds true in many ways. So, race, colour and beauty cards get played all the time.
My point here is simply that there are moments in our lives where we feel distinctly uncomfortable about certain things we see, hear or even do ourselves. This is a book that will help you pinpoint what that discomfort is, and, more importantly, how to avoid it, how to be conscious of the hurts we cause, especially to young people.
Imagine is a book that is essential for educators to use and absorb into their everyday interactions. But even more, it is a book for everyone. The reason why I reacted to it so personally, is because I could see mistakes I had made in my handling of young people. Sen shines a light on each individual and shows an alternate way so that we don’t continually make them. It is a book that humanises us in ways we didn’t think we even needed. Thank you Shelja Sen for helping us find those invisible children.