Simi Mehta, Anshula Mehta, Sunidhi Agarwal, Ritika Gupta

As the world is fragmented in different ways, the authors of Raising a Humanist book present ways through which society can indulge in meaningful dialogue and foster a generation of humanists. Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute presented a book discussion with Dr Manisha Pathak Shelat and Kiran Vinod Bhatia on Raising a Humanist: Conscious Parenting in an Increasingly Fragmented World as part of its series on The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps.

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Professor Vibhuti Patel kickstarted the conversation as the chair of the discussion. She briefly spoke about early childhood education and the importance of local community support programs in forming a strong foundation for gender equality.

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The book’s content

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Having worked with children and parents in various regions, Kiran Bhatia began to present the knowledge that the authors have attained from their conversations with some parents. In order to make significant insights accessible to a broader audience and democratize education, the speakers decided to write this particular book.

Kiran also mentioned that their book is based on a thorough understanding of the community they engage with. The book is essentially an effort to begin a discussion on how we can transcend our echo chambers. The book starts with an acknowledgment that introducing changes is not an easy task but a two-way process where one’s own limitations have to be identified and efforts should be taken to bring about changes in the environment.

Three expansive strategies are given in the book to help teachers and students identify helpful techniques, lesson plans, and tools.

  • The first strategy is concerned with how to redesign our environment and change the way children are made to socialize.
  • Emphasis is also laid on why questions matter while interacting with children.
  • The next strategy involves thinking outside the box and making use of the available resources in an effective manner so that children are open to a multi-cultural experience to find global opportunities to further enhance their knowledge.
  • The book will provide the readers with ideas on how to initiate internet discipline, maintain transparency and equip children with digital literacy competencies.
  • The third strategy involves play-based teaching and learning and there is a need to cultivate tolerance as a civic virtue in order to avoid chaos in society.

The book’s approach

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Dr Manisha Shelat commenced her talk by saying that most people like to listen, read and encounter beliefs and ideas that are in line with their own beliefs and they tend to shun varying beliefs.

The authors had decided to transcend their academic echo chamber and inspect their own background and beliefs to ensure that their scholarship is socially engaged. Their main concern was about converting the profound ideas into an accessible form without diluting them. In this light, they developed an approach that was critical yet pragmatic.

  • Firstly, they ensured that their book was audience-centric, that is, respecting the efforts of parents.
  • Secondly, they recognized that realities are can be quite complex.
  • Thirdly, they decided to present the content using humor, gentle provocation, illustrations, and interactive exercises.

Dr Manisha spoke about the necessity of policy discussions to engage in dialogue about parenting and the gender aspect.

The authors had also observed that women and transgender people are at the receiving end of most abuse on online platforms.

Dr Manisha pointed at the fact that India still does not have a Media Literacy Policy as part of the National Education Policy.

A social scholar’s perspective

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Dr Geeta Balakrishnan donned the lens of a social worker, a parent, a child, a grandparent, and a social work educator whilst reading the book. She believes that the engaging book will be very helpful to students at the College of Social Work who work with a wide variety of communities.

The use of language is crucial, especially for parents who take care of their children, as it can have a huge impact on a child’s mind. When children are sensitized in the right way, they learn to understand better. With respect to understanding conversations, Dr Geeta states that as a social worker, she could relate to the three aspects given in the book:

  • the language of care,
  • tone of comfort, and
  • the use of sensitive content.

Striking a dialogue and listening to children in institutions is very important.

Access to many resources is still lacking for many children and apart from this, children face rejection on different fronts that scars them further. Although the book is not on parenting, Dr Geeta felt that it did cover all aspects of parenting. Finally, she stressed building relationships with children and creating a comfortable space for them.

An academic perspective

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As a feminist and a mother, Dr Meenu Anand, says that the book is a significant one in the VUCA world. The first point that evoked emphatic coherence in her was the sense of oneness propagated by the book. Through anecdotes, multiple quizzes, and self-reflection exercises, the book presents ways to compartmentalize children into binaries of rights and wrongs.

It also translates how family, school, and media are pivotal agents that shape the minds of children. In addition to this, the book is holistic and inclusive of various aspects of a person’s life such as gender and sexuality, caste, religion, and class.

The book also involves the feeling of challenging oneself and this enables the readers to re-examine themselves, reflect, unlearn and re-learn. Dr Meenu concluded by saying that the book is practice-oriented as it lists actionable strategies for parents, families, educators, and communities from the micro to macro level.

The perspective of an educator

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Dr Sunayana Kadle calls the book impactful and the need of the hour. The book highlights the role of parents in bridging the gap between the children and the outside world.

In a chapter, the word “tolerance” has been used in a negative connotation and the authors nudge the readers to use acceptance and co-existence. The notion of re-inventing parenting is crucial to raise selfless and kind children. While fragmentation in society is supposed to change with education, this is far from reality.

Parents largely want their children to be successful and receive a good salary and due to this, they tend to neglect the cultivation of a humanist.

The approach to teacher education should be different so that teachers begin to initiate dialogue amongst the children.

Concluding Remarks

With respect to changing the attitude towards women, Kiran Bhatia acknowledged that all of us are being raised in a patriarchal society and she contended that we need to have difficult conversations to challenge the biases in the society and bring about changes at the micro and the macro level.

Dr Manisha Shelat addressed that parents generally believe that they should speak and the children ought to listen but the reverse is also supposed to occur.

Dr Geetha Balakrishnan stated that demonstration by parents can be beneficial for children in terms of overcoming biases. Dr Meenu Anand intended to place the book on the list of compulsory readings for the students of the Delhi School of Social Work. In order to take the core message to the marginalized sections of the society, Dr Sunayana Kadle suggested holding conversations with parents in the PTA meetings. The session was concluded by Dr Arjun Kumar who congratulated the authors for writing and publishing such an excellent book.

Acknowledgement: Ritheka Sundar is a research intern at IMPRI.

YouTube video for Raising a Humanist: Conscious Parenting in an Increasingly Fragmented World