tag:amitagupta.com,2013:/posts CULTURE, LEARNING and TEACHING 2021-09-23T01:39:35Z Amita Gupta tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1721804 2021-08-08T16:22:33Z 2021-09-23T01:39:35Z Supporting growth and learning at home during summer and other school closings

School’s out and Summer is here. This year, following the lock-down summer of 2020 and hopeful after the widespread vaccinating drives of Spring 2021, there is much excitement as people across the country are looking forward to summer experiences as they used to be. Summer was always a time when most children put away their schoolbooks and enjoyed travel, visiting grandparents, hanging with friends, and attending hobby classes and summer camps. Unfortunately, the summer break in the American school system is unusually long, often stretching from early May (when many private schools end their academic year) to until after Labor Day in September. This gap of three or more months away from schoolwork will naturally result in the forgetting of some content knowledge that had been learned during the school year. More commonly known as Summer Slide it refers to the loss of knowledge and skills that occurs in the vacation break period between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next. Summer Slide may be less apparent with children who are enrolled in summer classes and camps.

To prevent Summer Slide there are several experiences families can plan for at home. Because of virtual schooling during the past pandemic year most parents have probably already developed a level of proficiency in designing learning activities for their children. Still, here are some basic guidelines to keep in mind for those who are still looking for tips.

Apart from the usual summer outdoor activities such as sports, swimming and hiking – all of which are very important – there are countless indoor learning experiences that can be planned around daily activities.

To keep children constructively busy during summer days a well thought out schedule is essential. The planned experiences for children should serve to support their growth in four developmental domains (cognitive, social, emotional, and physical), and also address some academic content learning in Literacy, Social Studies, Math and Science. This may sound daunting to parents but the good news is that several of these targets can be reached with a single interdisciplinary activity or experience that can touch upon all the above content areas. And each experience can be made as simple or as complex to match the age and developmental levels of your children, as well as cultural contexts of your families and communities.  

Say you decide to make Fruit Salad one day. This may be extended into a rich learning experience. First you can help the kids write a list of their favorite fruit. This may be followed by a short research project where together you read up on each of those fruits and discuss where they grow and their health benefits. The next step would be to do a quick grocery run to shop for these fruit and involve the children in adding up the prices and making the payment. Once you return home you can wash the fruit and set up cutting stations on the dining table – give each child a plastic knife a cutting board and a large piece of fruit. The kids would proceed with cutting up the large piece of fruit into smaller bite-sized pieces. Once all the fruit is cut up it is put into a large bowl and chilled. Children then look forward to an afternoon snack that they helped make. While snacking you talk to them about the taste, smell, color and texture of each fruit. This can be followed by a writing and math activity where you help them chart how many fruit tasted sweet or sour.

As one can notice, this entire experience if planned and implemented thoughtfully and mindfully leads to getting kids practice their Reading, Writing, and Math skills and concepts, learning about the Science of the human body and healthy eating. If done with more than one child it nurtures social skills as they share, communicate with each other, and take turns. It also supports fine motor development as they hold down and cut the fruit into small pieces. And cognitive skills as they explore each fruit and identify its color, taste and texture. This experience can be made as simple or as complex depending on the age of the children.

Another completely different experience might be getting children to help with laundry and using that opportunity to discuss how laundry machines work, different kinds of fabric, colors and textures, how detergents and soaps work to clean stains, and then folding each piece of clothing which would be great for motor skills development. Again, depending on the age of the child the underlying academic concepts can be discussed at simple or complex levels.

Whatever the household chore – gardening, grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, cleaning and organizing, taking a walk – can all be turned into experiences in sorting, classifying, sequencing, observing, predicting, sharing, helping, team building, and problem solving These experiences can also be used to reinforce academic content like Math, Science, Literacy and Social Studies. Running errands for the elderly neighbors, or cleaning up their rooms and getting them to donate their old toys and books to those in need promotes empathy and citizenship values. Setting up a lemonade stall on a hot summer afternoon teaches children the value of working and being independent while understanding how drinking lemonade on a hot summer day can prevent the body from losing minerals and salts, and becoming dehydrated.

A mindfully planned learning experience each day will go a long way in preventing loss of content knowledge during summer or other stay at home periods of time. Though reading and math are literally everywhere and all around us, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of reading books. Reading is a fundamental skill that eventually helps children succeed in all other content areas because everything is all about reading, comprehending what you read, retelling it in your own words, analyzing what you understood, and finally being able to apply what you read to a practical situation.

Read more on Summer Slide in the New York Metro Parents magazine:


Amita Gupta
tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1677951 2021-04-12T20:14:13Z 2021-04-12T20:14:14Z Educating for Sustainability in ECE

One issue that emerges in research is that teachers are not adequately prepared on the topic of addressing Sustainability in their classroom curriculum and there has been wide agreement on the importance of including the topic of Educating for Sustainability into the Teacher Education Curriculum.

I discussed this with my graduate students and we agreed that it is easy to infuse this topic into all our teacher education courses. We also agreed that it is never too early to begin addressing issues around conserving and caring for our environment in PreK-12 schools even with young children.

We decided to compile a panel presentation on the theme of Educating for Sustainability. Participating on this panel are my graduate students most of whom are early childhood teachers in New York City schools and day care centers, and reflect a wide range of cultural, racial, ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversities as do the children they teach.

The course that they are taking with me is Social Studies in the Early Childhood Classroom. The New York State Pre-K Learning Standards for the Social Studies touches upon its 4 pillars: Geography, History, Economics, and Civics & Citizenship. Under each of these headings are sub-themes that include:

Geography: Our Earth and our Environment, Land and water,  Location and Mapping, How people, products and ideas travel between places, How people and environment interact with each other, Conserving and caring for our environment,

History: Change over time, Continuity of human life, Learning about the past

Civics & Citizenship: Participating responsibly in the welfare of the group, Democratic living, Being empathetic, Being socially responsible & considerate of shared space

Economics: Production and Consumption, Scarcity of Resources, Needs & Wants, Interdependence of people and communities

These standards are seen to be closely aligned with the values of Sustainability, Environmental Awareness and Climate Change. And all of these standards can be addressed in very age-appropriate ways in the early childhood curriculum.

Here is the video recording of my students presenting their ideas on how this can be done by giving examples of learning experiences that they have designed for their own early childhood classrooms.

Amita Gupta
tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1654931 2021-02-24T00:32:39Z 2021-02-24T21:32:35Z Early childhood teachers draw inspiration from Amanda Gorman

Amanda Gorman took the podium on January 20, 2021 as the youngest Inaugural Poet at a Presidential Inauguration. There was pin-drop silence as she recited "The Hill We Climb", mesmerizing all who were listening. Every word and every line was stunning in its imagery, clarity and power to inspire hope for recovery, regeneration, rejuvenation : "Somehow we've weathered and witnessed a nation that isn't broken but simply unfinished".  She reminded us that this wasn't the end but an opening to continue the work of uniting, of creating community. On that cold January day the air waves resonated with her voice, so confident, poised and reassuring, evoking sentiments of hope, unity, respect, empathy, inclusion and a togetherness that the country had been beginning to forget.

In the world of early childhood education community and togetherness are critical concepts that form the bedrock of joyful learning, effective teaching, and happy classrooms. The primary goal of early childhood teachers is "... to build the social skills and attitudes needed for learning in a community to keep the group together, and to engender, maintain and strengthen a feeling of togetherness in preschool (Hännikäinen 2003, 2005)". So in my graduate class of early childhood teachers I re-played the video of the young Amanda Gorman reciting her powerful poem, and I asked my class how this poem inspired them in their own professional work with young children. My students identified the particular lines that spoke to them the loudest, creating images to express their inspirations. These images appear in the photo gallery below in order of the students named here:

Karen Salamea: We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside. To me this means that we must come together as a community to help our future become a better place without discrimination, social/color privileges, etc. We should put our differences aside because if we don’t, then we won’t be able to work together and help our community prosper. ​

Lia Albuquerque: Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.

Rashmi Sharma: When day comes, we step out of the shade  aflame and unafraid. The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it. The light/dawn in my painting represents a new beginning, hope, and rebirth.

Guadalupe Muniz: The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light if only we’re brave enough to see it; If only we’re brave enough to be it. When I heard this particular line the vision of flowers blooming and the dawn breaking through the gray sky came to mind and that’s something really beautiful to see and feel because it symbolizes a new beginning.

Jamelin Gomez: We will rebuild, reconcile and recover. And every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful will emerge, battered and beautiful. Based on the line  that I choose from the poem I created an image and the image that I created represents unity among the diverse people in the USA.  

Elagance Rowell:

Daniella Rodriguez:

Frances Vellair: We are striving to forge a Union with purpose.  To compose a Country committed to all cultures, color, characters, and conditions of man. That is what we as Early Childhood  Educators strive to do daily, forge a Union with dignity, respect, and LOVE for all cultures.

Keisha Lavia: When day comes we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid, the new dawn blooms as we free it. This quote brings to mind the beginning of a new day. For me the sound of roosters signals the beginning of a new day.

Shannakay Shaw: I focused on the powerful words of the poem while still authentically representing the colorful aspect of the original image to preserve the meaning. I connected the different shades of skin color and the colors of the rainbow to the overall theme of the poem.

Eloquence Rowell:

Rubaba Mahjabeen: We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another. We seek harm to none and harmony for all. Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true. I have drawn the picture from an early childhood point of view, a world without violence and full of love, peace and harmony.

Carly Moreno: It’s the past we step into and how we repair it…love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.
I created a digital collage representing three iterations of the American flag. The quotes gave me the idea that as citizens we have the right to challenge and re-imagine the conscience of our country and how it is represented. It can be deconstructed and reformed to better serve who we are as a people now and what we will grow into. The colors red, white, and blue blend together to form a unifying color of lavender.

Michelle Whitaker: We are striving to forge a union with purpose, to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.  I created this picture to show that there are some people who can make changes in our country but are overshadowed by the darkness and those that are the darkest still have their colors of purpose.

Allan Molas:If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children's birthright. As a good citizen of this country we are duty bound to take up space, touch lives of other people, spread  mercy, and increase the virtues of faith hope and charity within our family and the whole society.

Amita Gupta
tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1607285 2020-11-23T16:32:02Z 2020-11-24T03:33:23Z Sounds of the City: A picture book for children

It is the best feeling when one can combine being academic and practitioner at the same time, when one can engage in theory and research while also working actively in the field. I had that experience when I was a doctoral student of early childhood education while simultaneously working full time in an early childhood school. The matches and mismatches that I encountered between practice and theory were nothing short of exciting revelations as my understanding of the field deepened and expanded. I studied all about early years care and education while I was working with young children.  

Ever since those graduate school days I wanted to create books for children. That wish however was put on hold as over the years I completed my doctoral research, wrote up my dissertation, and started a career in academia. The years were spent navigating the "publish or perish" pressures by publishing what seemed to be an endless stream of academic books and articles to clear tenure and all my promotions. And then came the pandemic stay at home and work from home era. No longer feeling the academic pressure to publish as a full professor I was able to turn my attention to more creative passions. With not being able to travel anywhere the summer of 2020 gave me that precious time to work on my very first children's picture book. It was a new project with a steep learning curve for me but finally it published by the end of the summer. The paperback is now available on Amazon worldwide:https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08JF17HHX/ref=nav_timeline_asin?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1#customerReviews

Book Description:

"This picture book is about a boy named Max who lives in a large city and who loves to take walks in his neighborhood. During one such walk Max encounters the many different sights and sounds that can be commonly seen and heard on city streets. The text and illustrations serve to paint a cityscape in all its exciting diversity. This book was inspired by life on the Upper West Side of New York City during the 1990’s. It will be relatable to any child living in a city environment as it highlights everyday city sights and sounds. And for children living in rural areas and suburban neighborhoods this book will introduce the exciting diversity of a cityscape. This book may also be used to introduce children to practices like silent sitting and mindful listening by focusing closely on sounds around them."

Amita Gupta
tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1593206 2020-09-13T18:38:45Z 2020-09-24T12:45:36Z Starting the 2020-21 school year with a Positive Mindset

Following a glorious Labor Day weekend on the east coast schools began a new academic year this past week. All across New York City the year 2020-21 kicked off with in-person classes or on-line classes or in many cases hybrid classes which combined on-line and in-person teaching and learning. My mind went back to my post from May 12, 2020 titled Teachers and Pandemic Fear. In that I had listed all the steps my graduate students would have liked to see implemented before they returned to teaching. From what my students shared with me this week some or all or none of those items had been addressed depending on individual schools and daycare centers. And since during this first week my students had anywhere between 3-12 children in their classrooms there was still a lot of trepidation and nervousness about going back to in-person teaching. Undoubtedly, first and foremost in our minds is how we are going to protect ourselves and our loved ones from these dangers.

Added to the pandemic stress the Spring and Summer of 2020 also brought on a tidal wave of fear and unrest across the country related to racial injustice, natural disasters, and political tensions. In any other year just one of those factors would have been enough to cause high levels of anxiety for anyone.

As difficult as it might be we hope that, as they begin a new school year, all our brave teachers will try and look for the positive within the current negative national and global climates. It's important that we not lose sight of the good and the kind and the beautiful that still bloom under layers of viral disease, racial injustice, political invective, and devastating forest fires that are filling the skies with ash and smoke. It's important to develop a positive mindset despite these challenges.

I asked my students who are working in New York City schools and day care centers to pause for a few minutes, and visually represent what they might be looking forward to even though the year ahead is filled with so many uncertainties. Here are their expressions and images for finding strength in the small comforts we might have all previously taken for granted.

Florencia: For this unusual Fall 2020, I look forward to learning and spending more time in the outdoors with my classroom.

Dayamara: I wanted to evoke both the uncertainty as well as the glimmer of excitement in my piece. I’m excited at the prospect of being settled back into my routines and interactions with new students and my co-workers, while also acknowledging that there are many obstacles we will have to work through...This manifests as planning for curriculum, reconnecting with new families, and seeing students excited (and perhaps even anxious) to learn for the first time.

Carmen: I made this word art portrait with words that were meaningful to me. Much of what I will bring into the classroom this year comes from my experiences, my culture and the people in my life that I love. All of this together has given me the grace and positivity to be generous in the lives that I am fortunate to teach and learn from.

Mary: Picture taken in the backyard of my childhood home- It was the morning after a big rain storm, and I was struck by how beautiful the light and the haze over the yard looked. I am so thankful to be able to wake up to this every day. When I see this, I get a sense of peace and gratitude, and I’m reminded of how lucky I am to be alive. In August I made the painful decision to resign from my job. I love my work, but, due to personal and family health issues, it was too risky for me to go back. The future is uncertain, and I’m anxious and worried about so much. Yet, despite all of that, I feel this is going to be a time of personal growth and self-discovery, and that gives me hope.

Rosanna: What I look forward to as a teacher in Fall 2020 and this academic year is to nurture and foster children's learning, by keeping children engaged in making learning fun.

Dalila: I'm looking forward this semester to go back to my class to welcome all my children with safety precautions.

Shanece: This piece illustrates unity and freedom of expression in a private school. I’m looking forward to teaching in a setting where the students will ALL be able to attend class and build a social relationship. Also, the quote on the board represents our past experience with Covid. It’s there as a reminder of what can be overcome. The book on the desk is called The Future. With this book, I’m aiming to teach my students about adaptation and flexibility in a variety of situations, adjusting to a new school system and expecting the unexpected.

Leanna: I wanted to depict the internal stressors and worries I have about teaching at a preschool and also starting my masters this year, that then lead to the positivity I emit into the universe all while having those stressors and worries.

Perla: During the pandemic, I stood away from the news to try and remain positive and I came across sunflowers. I googled the meaning of sunflowers and it stated it meant "adoration". I am a spiritual person and the sunflower also has a spiritual meaning of "faith". It resembles the sun which for me, meant positivity or sunshine, something to look forward to at the end of all of this. The color yellow also signifies "enthusiasm" and in a time where all I wanted to feel was happiness, it helped. I scribbled two verses of the bible from Isaiah 58:11 and Psalm 118:14.

Daniella: What I’m looking forward to now that everything is going back to normal. I decided to do something I’ve always wanted to try and do a blackout poem.

Carol: To provide a safe and healthy environment for each individual child.To encourage togetherness form 6 ft apart.To plan age appropriate activities and build on children’s prior knowledge.To provide materials that will enhance learning to meet the need of each individual needs. I am looking forward to a positive school year.

Amita Gupta
tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1593337 2020-09-12T03:23:37Z 2020-09-12T12:23:28Z Remembering 9/11/2001: Pages from a journal 19 years ago

These are journal entries that I wrote in the immediate aftermath of the horrific tragedy that struck New York City on that fateful Tuesday in September, nineteen years ago, when the beautiful blue morning skies over the city turned grey with the thick smoke of death and destruction...

I had last visited the World Trade Centers two summers ago. As is the drill, I had taken a family member visiting from India to see it. I remember sitting by the waterfront at the base of the twin towers, at dusk, waiting for the lights of Manhattan to come on before we went up to the deck. The two structures seemed so colossal, so strong and so invincible from such close quarters. Never in my wildest imagination could I ever have thought that a powerful jet liner would one day tear through those walls as though they were made of paper…

My school is housed in a church building which has to be evacuated as it is a high-profile religious institution. And it is only the second day of a new school year. But everyone is wonderful - the teachers, the parents and the children in responding to this emergency. There is no hysteria or panic, although many families do not know the whereabouts of spouses, friends, relatives. Phone calls are being made but the cell phones are not working too well. At a time like this, communication is what is needed most. And it is communication that is the biggest obstacle this morning. However, by 2.30 pm each child has been picked up or sent home safely.

I have a few bad moments when I hear about the plane crash “somewhere” in Pennsylvania. My older son is in college in Philadelphia and I haven’t been able to reach him on his cell phone for hours and am worried about him. But then I do reach him and am relieved to know he’s OK. My younger son is in high school in the Bronx. All entry into Manhattan has been cut off and he doesn’t have a cell phone and I can’t reach him.  Fortunately, a limited subway service into Manhattan is started by late afternoon and he is able to reach home. Otherwise he would have had to stay overnight in school in the Bronx. Today I vow to get a cell phone for him too.

Needless to say, everyone is reeling with shock, disbelief and an incredible sense of loss and sadness - for the innocent people who perished; for the complete destruction of the two towers that symbolized Manhattan and represented the global nature of all New Yorkers; and most of all for the feeling that life has changed and somehow we must learn how to live in the shadows of uncertainty and fear, haunted by these horrific images of death and destruction.

On the subway the faces around me are somber, sad and puzzled. Gone is the bravado and confidence that one normally sees in a New Yorker. It is replaced with hurt and a complete failure to understand what has happened and why. Of course, everyone is trying to carry on as normally as possible and engage in their daily routines. The Mayor asks us to. He seems stunned too- but is responding to rescue and recovery action despite the fact that the city’s Crisis Control Center has been destroyed and that hundreds of firefighters and policemen are dead or missing or hurt. City schools are closed only for one day. The whole city is being urged to carry on. But you can tell that on the inside people are hurting terribly. After all, how can anyone push away those horrific images? How can anyone’s life be normal after this?

The after-effects are being felt by us in various ways. Riverside Church has no internet or long-distance services. Our Internet service provider is located downtown and has suffered some damage. Verizon’s downtown cables have been destroyed and massively mangled. The phone at home too is intermittently non-functional. None of the local TV networks - ABC, NBC, CBS - can transmit. All their transmission stations operated from the top of the World Trade Centers.

It is Wednesday evening and the acrid smell of smoke and burning has reached us uptown. I have to keep the apartment windows closed because it is difficult to breathe and my eyes are smarting with smoke and other particles.  I am thankful that we are still alive and well, still have a roof over our heads and have plenty of food. My heart goes out to those who are inconsolable as they continue to wait on the streets and hospital corners for some news of their loved ones.

Downtown Manhattan is closed completely all the way below 14th street. It will be days and weeks before the shock even begins to wear thin, and they are able to clear the debris. I write as though the worst is over and behind us. And even as I write I ask myself "But is it?"

All day on Tuesday and Wednesday, I can only sit in front of the television. I am mesmerized and it’s as if an unseen force is keeping me riveted to the TV screen. All the channels are disrupted and blurred. Only one channel can transmit clearly via New Jersey. And I sit there in a stupor- watching those images again and again and again. The horror of it is hypnotic - the enormity of the attack, the crumbling of the invincible, the happening of the unimaginable. I still hear a part of my psyche say that this a disaster movie all over again. The mind cannot accept it.  I struggle to find and cross the line between fictitious polaroid imagery and this ghastly reality.

It is only on Thursday afternoon that I can muster up enough courage to venture up to the 23rd floor of my building. And through the south facing windows I gaze upon the Manhattan skyline. It is such a lovely afternoon, sunny with a slight haze in the distance.  I see the Empire State Building. I see the Chrysler Tower. But I cannot see the World Trade Centers. It is calm - so peaceful, so quiet in the city. No wailing of sirens on the streets, and no droning of planes in the skies. Even the mighty Hudson seems to stop in a moment of silence with not a ripple on its surface. I gaze back at the gap in the skyline. It is like looking at a watercolor of New York City in which someone with a gigantic paintbrush has gently brushed away the Twin Towers, blending them into the white and grey skies beyond. Perhaps my eyes are deceiving me. Perhaps if I peer hard enough into the distance the Twin Towers will emerge, ever so boldly, from behind the late afternoon haze. But the skyline remains unchanged. Yet so changed forever.

That evening I feel pulled towards downtown Manhattan. I need to get closer. Even though I am only a couple of miles north of the crash site, I feel removed from it - distanced by an eternity. I have to live it, see it, breathe it, sense it from a closer vantage point. I want to be nearer Ground Zero. The subway stops at 14th Street. No train can go beyond that. I come out of the underground station and out of habit, immediately turn my head upwards to look for the Twin Towers. I always looked for them to get my bearings when I surfaced from the subways. They helped me know north from south every time I found myself in the maze-like narrow streets of lower Manhattan. But of course, the towers aren’t there. Instead I am hit by a strong blast of acrid smoke stinging my eyes as I walk out onto the streets.

Once on the street level, I find myself right next to St. Vincent’s Hospital. The whole square is cordoned off. There are dozens of Radio and TV vans from all over the world lined up by the streets. Several commercial spotlights for TV transmissions flood the square with a white light that is as bright as day. People are huddled, gathered in groups talking about lost loved ones, showing pictures around in case anyone had been spotted being brought into the hospital. There is a low, hushed sound to people’s conversations. A sense of fear and horror lingers. Long lines of people wait to donate blood. I walk on past walls and bus shelters and phone booths covered with photos and fliers of missing people. Each piece of paper has a story to tell. Name, height, age, weight, color of eyes, which floor the missing persons were last seen on, which multinational corporations they worked for, whether they had been a mother or father or brother or sister. Even friend or fiancee or cousin. Each photograph pulsates like a living, breathing, smiling individual who has a full life still to be lived.

I make my way further south, the smoke becoming denser. It is an eerie sight. The streets of Lower Manhattan are empty of vehicles. Hundreds of people are just walking - in shocked disbelief, grappling with the reality of what has happened, struggling to make sense of this tragedy that has occurred through deliberate acts of human cruelty. Many wear masks, not able to breathe freely in the smoke-filled air. An occasional vehicle rolls by silently- Department of Sanitation, or NYPD, or American Red Cross Disaster Relief. There is no need for sirens or traffic control police on these empty streets. How can this be, I ask myself incredulously for the thousandth time. Film and television images of New York being trashed and destroyed abound in my mind- but only in Hollywood blockbusters such as Armageddon, Earthquake, and Deep Impact. How could the unthinkable, the unimaginable really have happened?

I walk down to Houston Street before being stopped by a police barricade. Not even pedestrians are allowed beyond this. I stand there along with several other people. We are all there with the same purpose, or the same non-purpose. Just standing in a trance, too stunned to do or say anything. In any case, there is nothing to say. Nobody has the capacity or the words that will adequately express what we are feeling or describe what just happened. 

It is late in the evening. Staring down the street it is hard to distinguish the buildings in the faint light of dusk - or is it just the dust and smoke darkened by acts of evil? Shadowy outlines of buildings stand silently as a plume of smoke swirls around them from a still smoldering pile of shattered steel, crushed concrete and broken bodies. And that smell!  Strong, acidic and metallic, rising from the rubble of burning glass and metal and human bodies. Where else could they be- those thousands of people whose smiling faces are now looking down upon me from every wall and lamp post in the area?

It has been raining continuously since yesterday quenching smoldering fires and washing off some of the dust and ash that is covering the city. But not even these tears from the clouds above can wash out the slivers of fear and the specks of pain that have been firmly lodged into the eyes of New Yorkers.The rain comes down into the sea, water meeting water. And I can be sure that tears of grief are rolling down the face of Lady Liberty who stood by helplessly as the city by her precious harbor was invaded, raped and ravaged by the hand of hate and terror.

This morning I feel that I must go downtown again. I call my friend Nancy and she is as eager as I am to visit the Site. Of course, once again, we’re not allowed to go beyond a certain point. This time we reach Canal Street and head out West to West Side Highway. There is a crowd of people all over, and photos, letters, notes stuck on every wall and shop window. One Café has large glass walls and outside on a table someone has left a pile of sticky notes and pencils. Passers by stop, write a note, pen a thought, pencil in their love and support and stick it on the café windows. There are thousands and thousands of such notes - from Nancy and I, from other New Yorkers, from people across the country, even across the world.

West Side Highway is being used by the Rescue and Recovery crew. Firefighters, policemen, volunteers go in by the hundreds to do what they can. I watch as van and busloads of tired and exhausted firefighters return from their shifts. The expressions on their faces is one of physical and emotional fatigue - a kind of hopelessness that comes from knowing deep within that there is no chance of any more survivors, that to clear this mountain of rubble is going to take not days and weeks but months. Each time a group of tired workers leaves, or a group of fresh firefighters returns to yet another shift, the bystanders cheer loudly, urging them on with all they’ve got using their voices, their hands and home-made signs.

Even several days after the event, I meet people whom I have known for years and who have variously experienced this attack of terror on their lives. New stories told to me by friends and acquaintances keep surfacing in an unrelenting series of painful spasms. I find it impossible to push these stories to the back of my mind, to unfreeze my being from the icy coils of panic. How must it be for these people who have actually lived this fear?

How can Sheryl overcome her grief of hearing her fiancee call her one last time from the 102nd floor of the World Trade Towers, after which there was only a silent and devastating wait that is stretched into infinity?  How can Charlene move beyond her shock to discover only incidentally that three of her business colleagues who did not even work at the Twin Towers were there that morning for an American Express meeting and have not been heard since?

How can Lisa ever forget the horrific images of debris and fire and fear that met her eyes as she stepped out of the subway station on Wall Street that morning just as the second plane hit the Towers? Or Rick, who was under the airplane as it struck the first building. He ducked for cover, and saw debris fall all around him, exploding like a million bombs as it hit the ground.  It was a few minutes later that he realized that the debris had turned into human beings who were falling from hundreds of feet above, all around him. The bodies were breaking up into pieces as they struck the ground, and then body parts were flying off hitting other people on the streets. Will these images ever fade in Rick’s memory? Probably not. And I won’t forget the shell-shocked look on Lisa’s and Rick’s faces as they rambled on, deliriously describing their experience to me.

And neither will John at his law firm, or Arthur at the Justice Department who both ran out from 7 World Trade Center just in time before the building collapsed, with falling debris and bodies hitting them from all sides. They lost their offices and everything they had - photos, college diplomas, files, data, their business lives. Today both shrug it all off, just glad that they are still alive.  And what about the pain that Dora feels- Dora who I see everyday and who knew Mychal Judge, the Firefighter’s Chaplain. They attended the same church and met every Sunday for years. Mychal died while attending to a dying fireman as the first tower fell right onto him - crushing him. Or how can I not think of the terror that George must have felt - George who worked in an insurance company on the 102nd floor and with whom I had had several telephone conversations each year because that was the company that insured the children in my school. I read his obituary in the New York Times earlier this week.

And so it is with several other parents at my school who worked on and around Wall Street and the World Trade Centers. The stories are told and retold. And interspersed with these tales of horrific truths are the city’s attempts to comfort and console and start the healing. For somewhere the healing must begin. I feel it’s too soon for any kind of healing. But a start must be made.

Riverside Church holds one of the first inter-faith services open to the public. People flock to it - still numb with shock, still in denial, still not wanting to believe it’s real. The service is telecast live on PBS. I watch it at home on TV. Away from the prying eyes of people. Being able to cry in private. There are religious chants by Rev. James Forbes, Imam Al-Hajj W. Abur-Rashid, Karda Al-Quari Sheikh Ahmed Dewidar, Rabbi Lester Bronstein, Cantor Benji Ellen Shiller, Ven. T. Kenjitsu Nakagaki. Each chant, regardless of faith and source, is haunting, its melody echoing of the eternal nature of pain, sadness, love and beauty all at once. Between these religious invocations are expressions of healing and faith from the Arts. A mezzo soprano singing a Fransiscan prayer, Mandy Patinkin singing selections from Sondheim and Rodgers & Hammerstein, violinist Joshua Bell playing the soul searing Meditation from Thais, Matthew Rushing dancing from an Alvin Ailey choreography and Lillias White singing Duke Ellington. Across faiths, across race, across disciplines the words and music of comfort and understanding begin to flow into the mind and soul.

Riverside Church hosts yet another service - reaching out to the tired and weary and grief-stricken people of Manhattan. This time to come listen to the wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist Monk who was recently nominated for the Nobel Prize for Peace. I am able to get a front row seat. I don’t know how. But I accept that as a gift. At a time when I cannot understand how it is that I am alive and yet 6000 people only a few miles from me have lost their lives and have been incinerated to dust, I have stopped asking why and take everything I get as a precious gift. There is a beautiful Buddhist ceremony as the monks sing and invoke the Boddhisattvas . Thich Nhat Hanh sits serenely, cross legged, a mere 7 feet away from me. I gaze at his face and feel the energy of peace that emanates from him. He speaks for 90 minutes and talks of mindful listening. The West is not brought up to value mindful listening, he says. Rather success here is measured in terms of verbal skills. He emphasizes that the key to good communication is not in talking but in listening - between parent and child, between partners, between nations - really listening by keeping an open mind and not judging. Mindful listening, mindful walking, mindful breathing, mindful drinking: Let’s be mindful of every little step we take, every little breath we breathe, every little word we speak. I come away from the three-hour service feeling comforted and a little calmer.

There are things that happen that are not for me to reason out or question. There are things that happen for which I find no answers, and that I cannot understand. The tragedy remains as a horrific shock. Perhaps the biggest disaster that I have known. I know that this is certainly not the biggest tragedy in the history of mankind. There have been worse. The Black Plague, the two World Wars, Pearl Harbor, the Holocaust, every nation’s fight for freedom, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, natural disasters, and dozens of other tragedies. But for each one of us, the magnitude of a tragedy rests upon proximity, and the probability that it could have been “me or mine”. And it could have been me - if I had happened to have an appointment to see my financial advisor on Wall Street, or if I had happened to visit my immigration attorney’s office downtown, or if I had happened to take a morning off to visit Century 21, or if I had happened to show another visitor from India the World Trade Center...The possibilities were endless.

But I was not there on Tuesday morning, and nor was any loved one of mine. And for that I will remain eternally grateful. The sadness, too, will remain. There is too much and too many that will be constant reminders around me of that horrendous, shocking, heart-stopping moment when, a couple of miles away from where I sat in my office in a tower, the first jet liner flew into one of the Twin Towers followed by ever increasing horror as the tragedy continued with the second plane, and extended even further with the crumbling of the first tower and then the crashing of the second tower, killing thousands of innocent people.

Tuesday, September 11. A day that will go down in history as one having stunned the world. It’s hard for me to accept this act of terrorism because it happened in New York City - a city that I thought was strong and invincible - the pulsating nerve center of an economic power; a microcosm representing the world and where people from all over the world live in close proximity; a dynamic emblem of freedom, democracy, and diversity. A city that never sleeps had been stunned into a stupor. For people like me who had made a conscious choice to live in New York City, it was like a personal assault. This city gave me the opportunity to accomplish what I never would have in any other part of the world. This city let me, a foreign woman of color and a single mother, go to school, start a career, raise my children, and live a respectful life. This city gifted my children a free and high-quality public education without asking who they were or what they believed in. This city allowed me to dream and aspire, and then provided me with the opportunities to realize those dreams. How can I not feel angry at those who invaded my life and injured my city?

I am always amazed when I think back to how from those initial weeks of raw emotions - of shock, sorrow, anger and fear - New Yorkers banded together and bounded back to a better and stronger place. I hope we can remind ourselves of our resilience and inherent goodness to once more work together and overcome the sorrow, anger and fear that is currently sweeping across our country...

Amita Gupta
tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1562201 2020-06-20T13:38:28Z 2020-09-24T21:06:11Z Resources to help children understand racial injustice in a post-Covid world

June 19-20, 2020

June 20th, 2020: Summer Solstice. The official end of Spring and the beginning of summer. After being blindsided by a deadly pandemic, the world finds itself in a new post-Covid 19 era of dealing with a deadly virus while working from home and learning from home. With most summer camps and schools suspended due to the pandemic, parents/caregivers continue to keep their children at home while also educating them during the long summer days that lie ahead. This is, of course, on top of continuing to themselves work full time from home.

June 19, 2020: Juneteenth. Our post-Covid world is also witnessing another life changing moment as the protests following the killing of George Floyd gathered momentum, and the Black Lives Matter movement now impacting legislation on policing policies around the country.

How to address issues of race and racial injustice with young children is currently the most discussed topic in many homes. There is a plethora of information out there and reading through all of it can be overwhelming. I have selected a handful of multimodal sites to share here. This list is certainly not complete and there is a lot more available in terms of relevant resources. But I have deliberately kept this list short and easy to navigate. Some of these resources contain information for parents/caregivers and teachers, and others can be explored together with children. My hope is that it will provide a starting point for families/teachers who are just beginning this discussion with young children, and will support them with helpful tools to address the topic of racial injustice.

Short films: To tackle issues of race, bias and identity the New York Times has compiled 26 short documentaries that range in time from 1 to 7 minutes. Additionally, teachers will find here several teaching ideas, related readings and student activities.

Anti-Racism For Kids 101: Starting To Talk About Race: Racism expands beyond skin color. It includes cultural norms and behavior, language, and other markers of racial and ethnic identity. Therefore it is important to introduce children to stories and books that demonstrate that people of color are complex and diverse persons and not a monolithic group. This site offers a long list of books on racial diversity which provide parents with an easy place to start exploring with their children how to destigmatize difference & celebrate racial diversity. https://booksforlittles.com/racial-diversity/?fbclid=IwAR39vJQQyCnHfhF0m66o67GnGgR9BuWclmDQJXBQuUwznf1-YxaZxSzM_l4

100 race-conscious things you can say to your child to advance racial justice: Don’t know the words to use or to explain a race-related idea? This site is a great resource for adults as it models the language they can use when they are trying to talk about race with young children, with the goals of dismantling the color-blind framework and preparing young people to work toward racial justice. Examples of terms that are explained include racism, multi-racial, violence, activism, homelessness, the Thanksgiving holiday, sexism, white privilege, gender identity, and others. http://www.raceconscious.org/2016/06/100-race-conscious-things-to-say-to-your-child-to-advance-racial-justice/

20 picture books for 2020: Readings to embrace race, provide solace and do good:https://www.embracerace.org/resources/20-picture-books-for-2020?fbclid=IwAR0GerGNHcgmxaenfsH8z71ganlZAlSqSM_jqSXZ804vhX2Pc2hgN0-YnvI

Social Justice Summer Curriculum for Children of Color: This website offers a carefully planned summer curriculum to be used by parents during the summer. It was compiled by a group of five Chicana Mothers and can be adapted for any family of color and any age-group of children. It is a six-week Social Justice Summer Curriculum based on these mothers’ beliefs that teaching abolition and liberation begins at home. For each week the curriculum provides a suggested activity, a book to read, and flash cards to introduce to the children the language and vocabulary of inclusion. https://www.chicanamotherwork.com/summer-2020?fbclid=IwAR3EWxFXpUDerB4bPKEVHS-4uyKImkNg-4qu0i-FtqdW3z4ThMV4tU0Z6tM

It Starts at Home: Confronting Anti-Blackness in South Asian Communities: A Facilitation Guide: Created by the Queer South Asian National Network which believes that undoing anti-Blackness starts at home: in our families and our communities where conflict can often be hardest. This helpful guide provides the tools for South Asians to hold these conversations within their own communities. https://queersouthasian.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/it-starts-at-home-confronting-anti-blackness-in-south-asian-communities/

Podcast: The Parent Scoop - bringing education research and knowledge to parents, from parents.This podcast is hosted by Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher, Ed.D., education professor and mom of two and has a wonderful collection of conversations with experts that does a deep-dive on topics such as race, pandemic schooling, balancing work and play, etc. http://theparentscoop.net/conversations-about-race

Videos for children: Compiled by the site We Are Teachers these videos on anti-racism will help to explain complex topics to young audiences: https://www.weareteachers.com/anti-racism-videos/

Museum Portal: The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture has released the “Talking About Race” web portal to help people explore issues of Race, Racism and Racial Identity. The portal provides tools and guidance to inspire conversation. https://nmaahc.si.edu/learn/talking-about-race


For parents of color, schooling at home can be an act of resistance (Monisha Bajaj): https://theconversation.com/for-parents-of-color-schooling-at-home-can-be-an-act-of-resistance-137691?fbclid=IwAR3wVI6HT_ONV3Hsar8cHJ1kqSJwoFntcP2n_saXoqs7M3dK0GD-u0OEZ3A

Talking to Children Authentically about Race and Racism: A conversation hosted by PBS KIDS for Parents featuring fellow parents, educators and child development and trauma experts ​about how you can talk with young children about racial injustice. This show can be viewed on Youtube under the title Talking to Children Authentically about Race and Racism.

Becoming a Parent in the Age of Black Lives Matter (Clint Smith) https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/06/becoming-a-parent-in-the-age-of-black-lives-matter/612448/?fbclid=IwAR2GVcVM1bP7rWR-YA7B90_RFfv0FUTfEBszUAQ9rJ83nhADxb7cCZoViv0

How Kids Learn Prejudice (Katherine D. Kinzler) https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/23/opinion/sunday/how-kids-learn-prejudice.html?fbclid=IwAR0_o1x5AvqeT-0l7N83dEpKLA1S6n8SimgXS_Eq2171Pt-jWfleDLz9pT0

Black Lives Matter is relevant to all communities. South Asians and African Americans have been standing up for each other for over a century. These are the histories we were never taught. This article offers a glimpse into that secret history of solidarity that is not widely known or talked about, by Anirvan Chaterjee. https://blackdesisecrethistory.org/

From Juneteenth to the Tulsa massacre: What isn't taught in classrooms has a profound impact (Daniella Silva) https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/juneteenth-tulsa-massacre-what-isn-t-taught-classrooms-has-profound-n1231442?fbclid=IwAR1Q1kV8_CAhKf5ho8LPvimrRVCWJfYNs7-8Gc6mQJlN4btErjIc9-y3KIA

The light still shines

Amita Gupta
tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1542704 2020-05-12T17:08:17Z 2020-05-12T17:18:38Z Teachers and Pandemic Fear

The Spring "Covid" Semester of 2020 comes to a close with this last week of classes. It brings a bitter-sweet feeling as I prepare to say goodbye to my wonderful students. Like most New Yorkers they have suffered tremendously this Spring: illnesses due to the Corona virus, many losing friends and family members, and several losing their jobs. On top of that the stress of parenting and working from home simultaneously has taken an immense toll on many of my students. But they have courageously persisted, and with great determination have attended every single remote class we've had, and have completed their course work admirably. I will miss them in class but we could all do with a break from screen fatigue.

We are looking forward to summer despite knowing that it's going to be a different kind of summer, more restricting and probably with more weeks of shelter-at-home. And also hanging upon us is the cloud of uncertainty around going back to work in the Fall. Will school and college buildings reopen in New York City? Will in-person classes resume? Will we have to teach in our windowless airless classrooms? Will we have to commute on crowded subways and packed buses? Though we would love to go back to the in-person teaching and learning that is so central to early childhood education, we are also afraid to go back to work in the same way as we used to.

Most of my students are in-service or pre-service early childhood teachers in New York City. I asked 40 of them to discuss the changes that they would want to see implemented in their schools and classrooms before they felt safe enough to resume in-person teaching or safe enough to send their own children back to school. Here are some of the concerns they expressed and the changes they wished to see implemented as NYC schools consider reopening in the Fall:

Advance preparation

More research-based information about the virus – how it attacks, symptoms, treatment

Everyone (administrators, staff, teachers,children) should be tested for Covid 19 and antibodies before coming back to school.

Cities and counties need to set high standards for sanitation and hygiene in schools and classrooms and send qualified and adequately equipped people to properly clean and sanitize all schools and daycares

Make sure all classrooms are properly equipped with hand sanitizers, gloves, masks, cleaning materials, ppe for teachers, etc.

Ensure better ventilation and airflow in classrooms/centers/schools

Transportation for children and teachers should be provided so as to avoid crowded subways and buses

Won’t feel safe unless there’s a vaccine in place and after that mandatory vaccinations to be a policy

Classroom and School Procedures

A nurse should be available in schools all day for a daily temperature check

Have a clear plan of action in case of  a second wave or another outbreak occurs

Ensure adequate time and supervision for helping children use masks and hand sanitizer

Stricter stay-at-home policy for anyone who is sick

Strict enforcement of policies and hygiene protocols for hand washing (20 seconds), disinfecting classroom surfaces throughout the day, daily temperature checks

Making resources available for more sinks, sinks in hallways, more hand sanitizer, more time for kids to wash hands

Accountability for people who are cleaning the classrooms

Classroom and School Environment

Strive to socially distance

Overcrowding of classrooms is a big concern - we need smaller class sizes for social distance

Overcrowding may be addressed by having AM and PM shifts for children

Better public education about hygiene which should also be made an essential part of classroom discussions

Ensuring Trust and Well-being

There should be training procedures for children, teachers and families regarding the way we talk about the virus and how we treat each other

The pandemic brings out the positive but also the negative qualities in people and we need to ensure the emotional well-being of individuals and of the community

We need to consider how the opening of schools will affect those who cannot come back due to illness

There needs to be more efficient management and better treatment of the disease

Regaining trust in government at all levels

Most importantly, how will preschoolers play together, hug each other, comfort each other, share with each other, and do all the things that they need to do to become caring, sharing, empathetic, compassionate individuals? The saddest thoughts shared were by a couple of students who questioned their plan of becoming a teacher and whether they would ever feel comfortable enough to go back into the classroom. I despair to think that if those in power don't get it right we might lose many fine teachers to the fear of this pandemic.

Amita Gupta
tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1535953 2020-04-26T21:26:18Z 2020-04-26T21:26:18Z Kindness in the time of Covid

A few days ago I read an article in the NY Times on “What our new normal will feel like” by Max Fisher: “The greatest psychological shift amid widespread crisis may be toward what is termed “prosocial behavior” — checking in on neighbors, caring for the needy, cooking for friends. Early humans, trapped in a hostile environment, thrived when they cooperated, typically in groups of a few hundred. Now, as we are once again besieged by nature and isolated into small communities, our survival instincts are re-emerging. During the SARS epidemic, Dr. Sim said, people looked out for one another in ways they might not have done before. They are doing so again now, even in Singapore, a city known for capitalist striving and competition.” (Max Fisher, NY Times, April 21, 2020).

Yes, acts of kindness have been spotlighted across the globe. The news media is filled with stories of people and communities reaching out to help, volunteer, donate, and offer any assistance they are able to. New Yorkers too have been doing what they do best - face difficult times by lending fully their hands, hearts, and minds to help build bridges of support.

The other day I asked my students to focus on positive energy and share any acts of kindness they had personally experienced or observed during these days of Covid 19. Here are but a few examples:

Volunteers in Caroline's neighborhood are helping the elderly and disabled to buy groceries and get medication.

Carol's niece who is a nurse is doing the grocery shopping for Carol and her family. When Carol's dog died, someone came to her home from another borough to pick the dog up, handle the cremation, and send the ashes back to the family.

Shannon has noticed that people are being kinder to each other in public spaces, letting those who are elderly or who have only a few items in their cart get ahead of them in line.

Dee was in a grocery store and didn't have a bag. The cashier got her a box, packed the box and put it in a cart so she could take it out to the car. Another time Dee went to the laundromat where an employee gave her a free mask and wouldn't accept payment for it.

When Mercy went to pay after shopping at a supermarket the cashier observed that she was stressed and spoke to her with much kindness, asking "How are you? Are you okay? It's okay, breathe, take your time!"

Walter said that residents in his building created a WhatsApp group that supports each other, and informs each other when a package is delivered for them in the building.

Larita shared that she and her coworkers are praying everyday on Zoom for another coworker who is sick. 

Maria’s sister cooks and donates meals to the military.

And then there are the instances we have been reading about everyday: parents forming support groups for homeschooling; restaurants ordering food for healthcare workers; the 7:00pm cheering for front-line workers all around the world; volunteers packing lunch bags for the homeless and providing hand sanitizer; hotels providing rooms for the homeless; people offering free classes, read-alouds, and other performances; libraries offering books to read online for free...

Hopefully, once the worst is over, we as a community, a city, a country, and the world can continue to keep our sights on those spaces deep within us from which such kindness emanates. Human nature is compassionate in its essence, and we can put human well-being above personal profit despite those who might urge otherwise. Let's do our best to remember our goodness during this devastating and dangerous time.

Kindness cannot be killed by the corona's sharp spikes. This is our opportunity to teach children not just good hygiene, but to teach them to value the compassion, kindness and empathy that lives within them. 

Amita Gupta
tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1531497 2020-04-15T11:57:16Z 2020-04-15T18:20:04Z The Spring of Covid

It's April 15th... a month since schools and colleges closed in New York City. Almost overnight teachers, professors, and other educators had to learn how to teach their students of all ages remotely using electronic devices. Understanding the language of distance education, on-line instruction, researching the multitude of platforms that support working and teaching from home, selecting which platform to use, re-designing course content and syllabi to be more suitable for an on-line format, and then beginning to hold on-line classes synchronously and asynchronously.... it's been a daunting and anxiety-ridden transition for someone like me who has been a staunch supporter of in-person teaching and learning. But we're doing it - my colleagues and I at the college levels, and my students at the early childhood and primary school levels. We're figuring it out and are now teaching from home.

What I found was that my class sessions for now have been 40% hand-holding and sharing resources with my students, and 60% teaching of content. And that's okay - I firmly believe that my goal as a college professor at this time is not to strive for the perfect on-line class. We are in crisis mode and each of us is sheltering at home with our family members while continuing to work. There are interruptions, disruptions, technological challenges, worrying about adequate food supplies and the well-being of our loved ones near and far. My goal during this time is to offer the most supportive, empathetic, understanding and stress-free class sessions while also getting some of the course work completed. My students are overjoyed each week just to log in, see each other in the virtual "classroom", greet each other, share their worries, ask for help with resources, and find comfort in the advice and consolations they get from each other. I find my groups to be stronger classroom communities than ever before because of their common fight and shared struggle with living in the time of Covid. And I so look forward to seeing them each week myself. Because what a teacher most needs is to see the faces of her students. The non-verbal language and the interpersonal connections between teacher and learner still take priority in my definition of teaching and learning.

I am proud of my students - for their courage, their persistence, their empathy, and their care and support for each other. I remind them that as they share their struggles in these difficult days they should also share with each other who or what continues to spark joy in them. To look for that glimmer of brightness however slim it might be.

Spring still blossoms in the climate of Covid...

Amita Gupta
tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1123206 2017-01-15T01:34:08Z 2017-01-21T15:57:22Z Education that is Multicultural: Primary Education, and more on Indian Culture

Blog # 12

January 12, 2017

This blog is authored by Study Abroad in India student Jeniffer Morron who is studying for her master's degree in Early Childhood Education at the City College of New York. She has an associates degree in Liberal Arts, a bachelor's degree in Journalism and is currently a head universal prekindergarten teacher at Noahs Ark Preparatory School ll in Queens, NY.

A Primary School

"This is our last visit guys!" Professor Gupta announced. A bittersweet feeling rose up and was reflected in almost all of our faces. Our last class was a site visitation to Cambridge Primary School located in New Friends Colony. Once arrived, you can see tall dark green trees, colorful plants kissing around each corner of the beautifully structured campus. The Cambridge School is a private, co-educational, English-speaking school. Their youngest students start in the Nursery class and children stay till the fifth grade. A large rectangular room with green tables and blue chairs surrounded by cabinets filled with various books was known as the school's library. Within that large and clean library, there were over 20 different genres all separated neatly in cabinets. Some genres included: give one take one (that means keep it or bring it back and take another one) Fairy tales, Chapter books, Wit and Wisdom as well as books separated by difficulty among children.

A few minutes after our arrival, children neatly dressed in dark blue uniforms walked in a straight line. Seven rows of six children took off their shoes and placed them neatly next to them along with their lanyard which held their picture ID's on one side and the other side held three contacts that they may be released to. Row by row, children sat down in a squared off section of the library, behind one another, legs folded, hands tucked on lap. The English teacher began her storytelling class by first asking the children, "Are u comfortable?" "Yes ma'am", they all replied in sync. Then she started to ask the children questions prior about the context of China. It was incredible to see how the children finished her sentences. She used so many physical gestures and was so animated!

After the story telling the class, we were able to have our first class ticket to go inside various classrooms. The children of a second-grade class were the ones who impacted me the most. Once a few of us walked in, the students stood up and the teacher told them to greet us and to make space for us to sit down. A few students near the back of the social studies classroom said, "Sit here ma'am!" I quickly moved to sit near the group of students, two girls and two boys. One of the student's book bag was in the way and once she saw me move it the young girl said, "I will do it, ma'am". I found this gesture not only respectful but also a sign of hospitality.

After our amazing observation within the classroom, we were able to interact with the teachers as well as the students in the grass field outside. The teachers looked so happy to be there, that was one of the many things that I noticed. They were dedicated, happy and invested within their teaching despite having 40 children in each classroom.

In the reading on Sri Aurobindo, there are three principles he states that are "true education":
1 )Nothing can be taught.
2) The mind has to be consulted in its own growth.
3) If anything has to be brought in from outside, it must be offered, not forced on the mind.

The teachers in this school, as well as the other schools we have visited, were the true examples of these principles. The teachers gave room for suggestions to the children rather than imposing on their work. The teachers in various grades were showing children how to acquire knowledge for themselves. Second, the teachers weren't hammering the children into becoming advanced robots. The children were seen to be comfortable to learn at their pace. Thirdly, the children were thinking about ideas on their own. Nothing was forced, their ideas were naturally developed as were their everyday skills.

Diversity of deities in a Hindu Temple

We moved on later that night to visit a temple called Shiv Mandir. We took off our shoes and walked inside to view the various Gods and Goddesses. Although the temple was dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva, there were many other Hindu gods and goddesses housed in the temple as well. Among these colorful and detailed statues were:
* Brahma, the Creator
* Vishnu, the Preserver
* Shiva, the Destroyer
* Ganapati, the Remover of Obstacles
* Avatars of Vishnu (Ram and Krishna)
* Saraswati, the Goddess of Wisdom and Learning
* Durga Devi, the Goddess of strength

Diversity of foods in an Indian Vegetarian Restaurant

After that memorable and spiritual experience, we went directly to Evergreen restaurant to have our last dinner as a whole class. Various foods were available to try from northern, southern and central Indian states such as Punjab, Haryana, UP, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh. Some of the foods we tried were:

*Idli Sambhar
*Masala dosa
*bhel poori (my favorite)
*sarson ka saag aur makki roti
DELICIOUS! Our tastes buds were in for a surprise!

This was our last class here in New Delhi, and we all realized that we had been inspired by so much that affected us each individually. Mahatma Gandhi says, “be the change you want to see in this world." India inspired all of us to be free, be comfortable and best of all be happy.

Amita Gupta
tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1122867 2017-01-13T17:37:43Z 2017-01-22T22:58:49Z Education that is Multicultural: Inclusive Education 2

Blog # 11B

January 11, 2017

This blog is authored by Study Abroad in India student Moraima Avalos who is studying for an undergraduate degree in Childhood Education at the City College of New York. For her masters degree, she plans to major in Early Childhood to broaden her understanding of young children as she wants to focus predominantly on kindergarten students who live in troubled homes.

Today's focus on Inclusive classrooms was a topic close to home for me. Both my parents are licensed special education teachers. My mother is an occupational therapist in early childhood agencies and I have become accustomed to being near children with special needs and have a soft spot in my heart for them.

We took a long drive to the school and finally reached it. The school, located near a couple of other government and private schools, had a beautiful campus. You could tell from the outside that this was a wealthier school. It was more of a college campus feel or even a boarding school feel which was interesting being that this school welcomes so many children with disabilities. This made me think that the administration really cared for the comfort of the students.

As the director of the special need department spoke to us, she informed us of the importance of making all students feel connected with the rest of society. The vision of the department is that all children should be given equal opportunity. Their school was committed to inclusion and felt that it is part of their DNA. Since the opening of this school, more schools have now made inclusion classes a part of  their curriculum. “All children can learn, every child has a right to learn” and if we accept that then we all believe in inclusion. Their ways of preventing this is through sensitization and awareness about people with different needs and also learning to accept. Here in India, some people haven't accepted the thought of special needs kids due to lack of exposure, lack of knowledge and lack of motivation which leads to negative feelings and false beliefs.

We then divided into two groups, one group visiting the higher grade classrooms and the other visiting the early childhood classrooms. As I am interested in kindergarten, I decided to visit the younger grade classrooms to know the different ways they instill independence and creativity. As we walked through the beautifully, colored halls; all the halls were filled with artwork from the students. Some of the classes were REM (remedial department) with 1-30 students following a mainstream curriculum. Other classes are NIOS (National institute of Open Schooling) and last, CSE (Center of Special Ed). NIOS focuses on students who are interested in sports or other hobbies and don't have much time to focus on education so this gives them a slower pace with 1-2 subjects in a year but the same work. CSE focuses on students with I.E.P and a ratio of 1:6. They differentiate planning for each student at different levels and incorporate ADA programs which enhance daily living skills.  As we walked around the classrooms I could see the creativity integrated into the curriculum. We even saw a classroom that helps the students learn independent living so they can leave school with these schools. It is important to make everyone aware of the ability of all children to learn . This school’s vision was very inspiring and I'm happy they feel it is important to give all students the same opportunity.

Amita Gupta
tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1122862 2017-01-13T16:56:35Z 2017-01-22T23:06:39Z Education that is Multicultural: Inclusive Education 1

Blog #11

January 11, 2017

This blog is authored by Study Abroad in India student Christina Singh who is currently pursuing her Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education at the City College of New York.

The Step by Step school is a private inclusive school welcoming to all children who need support. The school is made up about 50 professionals who are all committed to inclusion. One core belief of the Step by Step school is that "students learn best in a respectful, supportive community of trust where each student's learning needs and abilities are understood and accommodated as fully as possible." At the Step by Step school, inclusion is well executed - inclusion of children as well as inclusion of communities.

As we entered the gates of the Step by Step school, I could tell what we were about to see was going to be different than the Pratham community-based centers. The grounds of the school were well groomed and lined with pots of plants. Children's art work hung on the pillars leading the way into the school. Upon arrival, an image of Mother Saraswati greeted us at the door. Saraswati is the Hindu goddess of knowledge, musi c, arts, wisdom and learning. As we walked through the school children's art work was displayed on the hallway walls. The hallways were long and extending into different directions. As we peeked into one classroom, we saw children engaged in story time. We passed by the computer room where children were playing mathematical games. In the art room, children were painting pottery they had made from clay. We entered a special education classroom specifically designed for autistic children. The classroom teacher told us that he set up his classroom in a way that would support the children and allow them to complete classwork without verbal instruction. He told us that the reward for the children was completing the actual task. This made me think about the extrinsic reward system in America where a child would get a sticker or star for completion of a task.

Tagore's Theory of Inclusive Education promotes the idea that "education is a relational process between the child, teacher peers and nature (environment)" (Mukherjee, 2013). At the Step by Step school, this is well represented as we saw the school and parents sensitize and raise awareness about children with special needs. Professionals at the Step by Step school help students to reach their full potential academically as well as holistically, along with the help of parents and communities near and far.

Amita Gupta
tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1122497 2017-01-12T01:03:48Z 2017-01-20T15:43:34Z Education that is Multicultural - Economics and Education: India's changing socio-cultural and economic profile

Blog # 10

January 10, 2017

This blog is authored by Study Abroad in India student Jasmine Kasheboon Khoury who is studying for an undergraduate degree in Anthropology at the City College of New York.

Today was our 11th day in New Delhi, India. Our time here is coming to an end. Therefore, during today’s discussion we all took time to talk about our childhood experiences and our families. Through this conversation, we discussed how our identities have been formed and how we navigate between our own cultures and the assimilation into American culture. We evolve and form our own identity, making the decisions of what we want to hold onto within our culture and what we need to let go of on the basis of survival. With time everything changes. India is changing with time and this was shown to us through the presentations by faculty of The New Delhi Institute of Management.

The New Delhi Institute of Management (NDIM) gave us a very warm welcome today with a beautiful and tasteful lunch, presentations, interactive exercises, and of course, tea! We started off our visit by sitting in a circle with students currently studying in NDIM. About six of them told us about what they are studying, plan to do with their majors, and even their views of America. One of the students said that he is very influenced by American culture and that Paris Hilton is his Goddess. Another student told us a phrase translated from Hindi stating: “Delhi is full of people with hearts.” After this beautiful interaction, we sat in on three faculty presentations on the topics of Digital Marketing, Demonetization, and History of India.

The first presentation discussed how digital marketing was a way for people to connect. Through digital marketing there is a difference between stories and narratives. Narratives are meaningless, but stories have meanings and one-way to give something a meaning through social media is: hashtags. We see the use of people connecting and showing support through social media by talking about their experiences through hashtags like, #BlackLivesMatter, #ImWithHer, #Aleppo etc. Digital marketing has also made it easier for people to connect globally through Facebook, LinkedIn, Snap Chat, and Twitter. With the recent ability to “See Translation” of posts put on Facebook people can read posts/news in different languages.

Our second presentation focused on Demonetization which is the stripping of currency making it no longer a legal tender. Recently in India, 500 and 1,000 rupee bills were no longer worth any money as of November 8, 2016. These made up 86% of the currency that was suddenly unavailable leaving only 14% of currency still available in other smaller bills. Fourteen lakh crore was invalidated out of the sixteen lakh crore leaving the country with only two lakh crore in useable currency. The government has since printed new bills of Rs 500 and 2000 which are now being available to people. In India, this has happened twice before in 1946 and 1978, and now in 2016. Demonetization is done to stop the Black Market and counterfeiting. This move was made to help the common man because now the richer people have had to declare all their money and pay taxes on it. However, at the same time, interest rates have fallen and tourism has been affected during this transition because tourists have had less cash available to purchase gifts. The government is benefiting from this because taxes are being recovered and more money is going towards the government due to the penalties towards people who are part of the Black Market.

Our third presentation showed us the underlying philosophy of India; Unity Within Diversity. India is made up of many diverse states that come under the umbrella of one country: India. India is experiencing more feministic viewpoints, success within the IT industry, increased focus on education, and structured chaos. Education has become even more important and families do whatever possible, some families even selling their land and possessions to ensure that their children receive quality education. Two million phones a month are being sold creating a larger social network. And the strong cultural mindset of “jugaad” – the ability to make bad situations workable situations - is an innovative attitude that is widely experienced in India. All of this success and change is allowing the middle class to explode and poverty lines to decrease. India is changing.

Amita Gupta
tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1122392 2017-01-11T16:41:51Z 2017-01-22T23:14:38Z Education that is Multicultural: Vocational Education and Skills Development

Blog #9

January 9, 2017

This blog is authored by Study Abroad in India student Claudia Lara who is studying for a Masters degree in Early Childhood Education at The City College of New York. She has an associates degree in Deaf Studies, a bachelor's degree in Linguistics and is currently teaching 3 year olds in a preschool in Queens, NY.

Throughout our first week in India, we visited institutions that have taught us how different communities in India are being encouraged to continue their education. We are starting this week by visiting Skill India which is a skills development corporation for marginalized communities. As we learned in previous visits, the key to helping students succeed is to keep them engaged throughout process from education to employment. Skill India intends to help those who have dropped out of school by providing vocational training through hands-on activities.

Hearing "hands-on" made me think of activities related to the topic being taught however, seeing the classrooms made me realize it is more than providing activities. All the classrooms were different;  those training for hospitality had a replica of a hotel room for practicing, those training for a position associated with retail were standing in their classroom. Every setting aimed to provide real life experience to prepare them for the job position they would like to get.

As the article “Origins of Alternative Education in India: A Continuing Journey” by Deepti Mehrotra mentions, several schools have introduced alternative teaching methods that are different from the mainstream method (Mehrotra, p. 25). Besides introducing different hands-on experiences, Skill India has also introduced new equipment in the classrooms. The Institute has created and patented a touch screen projector which facilitates teaching. The projector has different features like graphing, browsing, and writing tools. It also has the option to live stream and record which can be played in centers that do not have teachers. Every setting and materials in Skill India was customized to fit students' career interest. Walking around the vocational centers made me wonder why classrooms in New York are not adapting to more realistic situations.

Amita Gupta
tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1121726 2017-01-09T15:47:21Z 2017-01-22T23:32:13Z Education that is Multicultural: Tea and Family

Blog # 8

January 8, 2017

This blog is authored by Study Abroad in India student Wendy Barrales who is a PhD candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center, and a founding teacher at Brooklyn Emerging Leaders Academy.

Icebergs are often underestimated in size. What is visible to the eye is only a small part of an immense structure. Culture is similarly misunderstood. We assume that our knowledge of tangible outputs--- food, clothes and music--- tell us enough about a particular culture. But just like icebergs, when we dig further and look beyond the surface, we begin to see the complexity and depth of its values and foundation. Prior to arriving in New Delhi, we discussed this idea of culture as a reminder to push our understanding beyond what meets the eye. At yesterday's afternoon tea with Professor Gupta's family, we got to see below the iceberg and soaked in the values embedded within family.

Unlike British afternoon tea, featuring scones with clotted cream and small cucumber sandwiches, Indian tea time is vibrant and flavorful. The color and smells wafting from the table were intoxicating as we impatiently waited to try some pohe (a flattened rice with turmeric green peas and fresh cilantro). We had an incredible selection of samosas and bread pakoras accompanied with spiral orange sweet jalebis and white squares of milk based burfi to settle our sweet tooth cravings. Not only were we expanding our understanding of Indian cuisine, but we were also part of a beautiful moment of family togetherness.

As we sipped tea, Professor Gupta's auntie shared a wealth of knowledge from her experience within the field of education. She has a sharp sense of humor and infectious energy causing all of us to gravitate towards her. Two of our classmates wore traditional Indian saris and she gave us a small description on the traditional clothing for various parts of India. Lastly, we shared a few laughs about the complicated relationships we have with our mothers, a topic of conversation that is relatable and universal to us all.

The warmth we felt yesterday provided us all with a comforting sense of familiarity despite being miles from home. Our understanding of the culture iceberg was broadened that day. Not only did we see how values play out within a family setting, we were also able to see how similar and alike our cultures can be. There are some things in the world that transcend countries and cultures, and the warmth we felt in that home was a universal feeling of love.

Amita Gupta
tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1121459 2017-01-08T16:45:49Z 2017-01-22T18:06:42Z Education that is Multicultural - Visiting the Taj Mahal in Agra

Blog # 7

January 7, 2017

This blog is authored by Study Abroad in India student Puiyee Cheung who is a graduate student at the City College of New York pursuing her Masters degree in the Bilingual Education and TESOL Program.

We went to the Taj Mahal today! It was interesting to see it in cloudy weather- the haze added an air of mystery and timelessness. The Taj, was built by the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan for his late wife Mumtaz Mahal between 1632 – 1648 AD. Along with the incredible design and symmetry, I was most fascinated by the materials they used; Makrana marble – which is translucent and nonporous – so that it looks differently depending upon the light, especially in the moonlight! There is incredible inlay work, which includes 4.3 million pieces of semi-precious stones such as: Turquoise, Lapis lazuli, and Malachite. It took over 22 years and 20,000 workers to complete; legend has it that the Shah cut the hands off the workers so that they wouldn’t be able to build another Taj.

In its presence, I found myself thinking about romantic gestures, and how different they can be: gifts, quality time, affirming words, acts of service, and physical touch. And depending upon the person some gestures are more appreciated and deeply felt, a notion that was popularized by Gary Chapman in his book The 5 languages of love.

In the spirit of this course – and how important relationships are in the classrooms we’ve visited, can we as educators be more effective in building relationships with our students? And consider that perhaps children like adults need and experience love differently as well? In The 5 Love Languages of Children, G. Chapman and R. Campbell, explains how different children can be, and that our language may be totally different from theirs. Thus by discovering their primary language, we can more effectively convey feelings of respect, affection, and commitment that will hopefully resonate with their emotions, behavior, and ability to learn in the classroom.


Photo by: Jasmine Khoury

Amita Gupta
tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1121339 2017-01-08T02:04:22Z 2017-01-15T13:58:35Z Education that is Multicultural - Gender, Sexuality and Education

Blog # 6

January 6, 2017

This blog is authored by Study Abroad in India student Meghan Cuadro who is an undergraduate student at the City College of New York pursuing her bachelors degree in international studies. In the future she would like to work abroad in maybe helping or teaching children in developing countries. 

Waking up on our 7th day in New Delhi, I was faced with the task of writing the blog today.  As I got ready, I reflected on what we did yesterday, and how today's activities could be a continuation on the different ways the RTE legislation is being implemented to gradually get all children in India to go to school. Today's topic was the girl child, and how India is trying to make a big impact on the lives of young girls.

The overall goal is to help girls and women get an education and to become more independent. Socially aware citizens want to get rid of the social stigma that has seemed to plague the life of young girls and women here, but this was not always the case. In ancient history, women were very much appreciated and involved in politics. They were warriors and scholars. With the development of patriarchal societies, women have fell back, and through feminist thinking women are now again fighting to regain equal positions to their male counterparts. This message resonates with me because in my own personal background. I have studied in  institutions that were only open to girls. Therefore, I know the significance of empowering girls and women first hand. As breakfast came to a close,  I thought I would bring my own personal experiences to our class discussion. We sat for a little over two hours, and had a wonderful conversational lecture. The lecture seemed to flow organically and each of us were very enthusiastic to ask questions and to give insight on the various topics of our discussion and chapter four assigned which was the assigned reading of the day. 

Once the lecture was over we were off to an NGO that specializes in working with girls. This NGO is called Nirantar which means "ongoing" in Hindi. Their work is continuous so the name has a proper fit. The men and women who work at this NGO are doing amazing work not only with young girls, but with older women as well. We all know the importance of educating a child, but we very often leave out adults. That struck me because throughout the seven days I've been learning about education in this course, I had never thought about education for adults. The speakers expressed their efforts to bring literacy to women who were not able to learn as children because of various circumstances. They wanted women to feel empowered in themselves even if they could not be helped out of certain situations such as arranged marriages and domestic abuse. Literacy is an important aspect of education. Nirantar has also expressed the right  to entertainment and abstract information. I loved that because many people and other organizations provide marginalized women with knowledge and skills to become a better woman, wife, and mother. This speaks volumes because women are human; not property or objects just to serve men.

Nirantar has reached out to 10-15,000 women and young girls when it comes to teaching literacy, but they do not pride themselves in quantitative statistics. They do not believe that they need to prove anything numerically because they know  their  work is good, and impacts made by them are little victories that accumulate. They started the only newspaper that is written and produced by women, which is printed in seven different languages.  It is called Khabar Lahariya. Nirantar is an NGO at the grassroots level, but they are creating sparks of change not only for girls and women, but also spreading awareness that is self-sustained to men of the areas they reach. Patriarchal ideals and stubborn mindsets are being changed and that is just a small percentage of the work Nirantar is involved in. Overall today was about empowerment and changing mindsets about gender and sexuality, and I am glad that work is being carried out by the young socially aware population of India. 

Amita Gupta
tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1121035 2017-01-06T15:07:06Z 2017-01-20T17:12:37Z Education that is Multicultural: The Role of NGOs in Education in India

Blog #5

January 5, 2017

This blog is authored by Study Abroad in India student Lauren Fleming who is a graduate student in Early Childhood Education at the City College of New York. She currently works as a paraprofessional at P.S. 95 in Queens, N.Y. and wants to become a certified NYC teacher.

Today we visited two non-profit organizations also known as NGOs - Pratham and Indusaction. We rose early and embarked on our journey. Traffic was moderate this morning so we were able to get to our destination in a timely manner. When we arrived we had no idea what we were about to experience, but with open minds we entered a community different from anything that we had already seen. 

Our first stop was Pratham.  The name Pratham in Sanskrit means first. We were told by the director of the NGO that the definition of the name Pratham gives light to its function and existence. It was the first NGO to begin bridging the gap between education, the family and the community in India specifically targeting the very economically disadvantaged communities. NGOs like Pratham, along with the government, provide schooling for as many poor children as they can between the ages 2-14. Pratham coordinates community-based childcare centers that are facilitated by community volunteers who conduct classes in small 6'x6' rooms in their own homes. In the preschool classroom, there was one teacher and 19 students. Classroom time runs for 3 hours each day. These classes are within the communities so parents feel comfortable in letting their children go to school because of its close proximity to their homes.

Pratham founders believed that children learn best when they are interested in the content that they are learning. Play-based child-centered learning was the main and new focus. They began to implement programs such as link library which was comprised with activities that would capture the students interests as they learned. Over time, officials noticed that as they were beginning to accomplish their goal of getting children into the schools, a new stumbling block surfaced - although children were in school they weren't learning. An assessment tool called ASER was launched by Pratham in 2005 to survey how much children had learned in each year of school. The tool could help teachers determine whether or not the student can read or do basic math by the end of the year.

We had the opportunity to enter a preschool and an after school program and witness what the Pratham organization had put into place. As we entered the preschool, our hearts began to melt as we watched the students feeling comfortable in their learning environment. We entered into the room to hear the chorus of children say, "Hello Ma'am". We took off our shoes and joined them in circle time as they were engaged in their sorting and counting lesson. They sang and danced as they learned the content in the context of their culture. It was interesting to see the resources they had. Teacher-made materials with vivid colors filled the classroom walls. It was a print-rich environment with many words in Hindi and some in English. There was student work on the walls as well. What warmed our hearts most was the smiles on the faces of the children as they were so happy to learn and welcome the American visitors.  

We exited the preschool and went to the after-school program. This program helped students attain literacy levels according to their academic level and not their age level. There is a morning session as well as an afternoon session. Each session is gender specific.  We were able to come in during the end of the boys' session into mixed-age classrooms. For example, the first and second graders were working in the same room focusing on a particular subject; the third and fourth grade were together and so on. Once again we were greeted with a hearty "Hello Ma'am" as we entered. The students were happily completing their science and mathematics class work. These students were between the ages 6-14. They were as happy to see us as were to see them. They asked us our names some even used the English language. What a wonderful experience!

Our afternoon stop was at the Indusaction headquarters. We met with the NGO's founder Tarun. After working in a large corporation he made a career change after being motivated to find something that was more socially meaningful where he could make a difference. Indusaction is a non profit organization that ensures the implementation of The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE).  "This act ensures that every child has the right to full time quality education that satisfied basic norms and standards." Indusaction aims to implement RTE by helping  economically disadvantaged families in Delhi to place their children in quality private schools and get children off the streets. The flyers emphasize the targeted populations including orphans, transgender, boys, girls, physically challenged and the disabled.  Indusaction runs a busy backend tech center where several volunteers make calls to deepen awareness of the RTE policy.

Both organizations, Indusaction and Pratham, are very instrumental in promoting and enforcing the governments education policies to improve quality and access to education  throughout India. Both groups promote efforts to get children off of the streets and into centers where education is fostered. They want to ensure sure that all children exercise their right to education.

Amita Gupta
tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1120775 2017-01-05T15:54:50Z 2017-01-18T09:44:30Z Education that is Multicultural: Judiciary history and Educational policy

Blog #4

January 4, 2017

This blog is authored by Study Abroad in India student Michael Daiowraj who is currently an undergraduate student at the City College of New York. He is studying for a Bachelor’s in Electrical Engineering.

The fourth day of our Study Abroad class in New Delhi, India was spent exploring the history of the Indian Judiciary, and receiving an insight into the construction and enactment of education legislation. Our day started off at 9:50 AM and we made our way through the dense New Delhi traffic, our destination being the pinnacle of the Indian Judiciary system, the Supreme Court. After several minutes of searching for the correct gate, we finally arrived at our destination. One could immediately notice the rifle carrying guards sitting directly behind the gate. We were ushered into a security checkpoint, with separate lines for men and women. Surprisingly, this is the second time we have encountered separation of genders in India. Unfortunately, we were not able to go into the main complex of the Supreme Court because the new Chief Justice of India was being sworn in that same morning. We were led into the Museum - a small circular room which presented the history of the Indian Judicial system in a consecutive order.

The Judiciary system in India can be traced back to more than 3,500 years. The administration of justice was first communicated by word of mouth and passed from one generation to the other, called Sruti. Recorded texts on policy, law and governance can be traced back to the Arthashastra, written by Kautilya in about 300 BC. After gaining Independence in 1947, the constitution of free India was drafted by Dr. Bhimrao Ramoji Ambedkar and later enacted in 1950. With the formation of the three branches of government, the Supreme Court became the cornerstone of the Judiciary branch. At the head of the Supreme Court lies the Chief Justice. We later found out that each justice in the Supreme Court hears over eighty cases a day and cases can be dismissed with just one word. Upon leaving the Supreme Court, I was interested in hearing the motto of the court, “Yato Dharma Tato Jaya,” which says that “where there is justice, there is victory.” These words truly describe the Supreme Court’s purpose in maintaining order through the enactment and enforcement of laws.

After leaving the Supreme Court, we found ourselves at the National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA). While there, we were treated to a magnificent lunch, followed by a lecture presented by several members of the administration. The lecturers emphasized that the beliefs and way of thinking of policy makers directly influences legislation construction. Such beliefs justify the low allocations to education, the provision of non - formal education to children, and the enactment of education policies that don’t interfere with child labor. Also discussed were the inequalities that plague the Indian Education system. While the differences in gender enrollment in schools are on a decline, social and regional inequalities continue to persist. This really made me think about how this affects autonomous schools. In the rush to preserve their reputation and social status, people make the rush to find the best private education for their child. As such, government schools would be considered as last resort, reducing the number of enrolled children in said schools. Among the topics discussed, I was surprised to learn that even though the Indian constitution and the RTE guarantees that the state shall provide free education, there are several children that appear to lack said education. The lecturers further explained the RTE act and the fact that it does not currently extend to children younger than 6 years, potentially causing those children to resort to begging on the streets. Leaving NUEPA, I can’t help but think about the current legislation in place for education, and what the future holds in order to improve said legislation.

Amita Gupta
tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1120594 2017-01-05T01:01:40Z 2017-01-18T09:53:44Z Education that is Multicultural: Spirituality and Education in India

Blog #3

January 3, 2017 

This blog is authored by Study Abroad India student Erica Sabino who is a graduate student at the City College of New York College. She is pursuing a master’s degree in Early Childhood Education. Currently she is working as a head teacher at a preschool named “Footsteps”. Her future goal is to get certified and work as a first grade or Kindergarten teacher.

Our third class session was about a brief background of the educational philosophies of Tagore and Krishnamurti who saw education beyond just textbooks and traditional class teacher directed approach.

The main focus of this discussion was Tagore, who believed in a more practical manner of teaching, and a more profound connection with the student, teacher and environment. Tagore believed that there needed to be a deeper connection between the student and the teacher in order to enhance students' potentials. He also believed that students, rather than focusing on competing with others, should be competing with themselves and that is what educating the mind and the heart is about. Tagore says, “But when u remove that, then you compete with yourself, you strive for excellence at the level of your own potential, not someone else’s (Mukherjee, 2016, p. 9). And that is how you connect yourself with spirituality. Spirituality is about the self. Not the religion like many people think of. Religion is just the head, spirituality is the heart (finding your true self).

Therefore , in the classroom spirituality is about that connection between the teacher and the student, creating a deeper bond, beyond textbooks can offer. It should be focusing on the student's ability and then preparing the child to be ready to learn new materials and be able to be successful. It is about nurturing creativity and critical thinking (Mukherjee, p. 8). As philosopher Krishnamurti which was also part of the discussion for today, “Education is not just to pass examinations, take a degree and a job, get married and settle down, but also to be able to listen to the birds, to see the sky, to see the extraordinary beauty of a tree….and to feel them, to be really directly in touch with them” (Mukherjee, p. 14). This is the self-spirituality connection within the classroom context.

Later that day we visited the Ba’hai Lotus Temple. As I walked through the valley of the temple I noticed how spirituality plays out in New Delhi. It is all about respecting the self and others and connecting all together in unity no matter from what belief and religion they come from. As we were about to go inside the temple as a signal of respect they told us to remove our shoes and to turn off our devices. Once we were inside the temple everyone remained silent. It was interesting to see the level of of reverence once people were inside the temple. Everyone sitting down praying even the children were silent. All religions were accepted inside that temple. In the Ba'hai faith people were seen as members of the human and as beautiful flowers growing in the garden of humanity.

Spirituality is about the deeper connection with the self and it is surrounding (people, Gods, natural environment). It is about creating a connection first with yourself - your inner world - and then with the outer world. It is a connection with the soul and how you as a teacher, student, children, adults create those relationships that creates the sense of spirituality within us. Humanity - this is what today’s lesson focus about. Rather than just focusing on materials physical things; textbooks and religion, focus on the deeper meaning of everything. Spirituality is within, education is within.  And that was today lesson.

Amita Gupta
tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1120147 2017-01-03T13:23:55Z 2017-01-14T10:13:31Z Education that is Multicultural - Social Fluidity in Delhi: A City of Seven Cities

Blog #2

This blog is authored by Study Abroad India student Lilai Teckie who is a graduate student at Lehman College in the Bronx. She is receiving a master’s in Liberal Studies in international development. She received a BA in political science from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

January 2, 2016

The second day of our Winter Study Abroad course in New Delhi, India was spent exploring historical monuments. After a tasty breakfast and a quick briefing by Professor Gupta about the day’s itinerary, we hustled onto our 16 seat minivan and headed out into the bustling streets of New Delhi. It was only about 10 am when we left our hotel, which is located in the quaint Green Park colony, but the traffic was already thick. Cars, buses, rikshahs, bicycles, motorcycles, humans and animals were all fighting for a place on the road and the constant melody of car horns were unavoidable no matter where we turned.

Twenty-five minutes later when we arrived at Qutab Minar, we were surprised to see ticket prices plastered that varied based on whether you were a local or a foreigner. The difference in ticket prices was anything but subtle-- 30 rupees for Indian locals and 500 rupees for foreigners.  After we purchased our tickets, we followed signs into the Qutab Complex which had separate lines for females and males. This was just one of many reminders of the importance placed on gender and the separation of gender in many spaces within Indian society. Once we passed the gated entrance of the monument, we were immediately blown away by the manicured landscape of the complex and the towering beauty of the Qutab Minar. The Qutab Minar, at 73 metres, is the tallest brick minaret in the world and second highest minar in India, after Fateh Burj in Punjab, India.

The Qutab Complex is located in what was once known as Lalkot, the first city among the seven legendary cities of Delhi. It was constructed in the 11th century and was the center of power during the 11th to 13th century A.D. Many rulers had come and gone, constructing other cities that had been abandoned or destroyed, such as Siri, Jahanpanah and Firozabad, but Qutb Complex never lost its importance throughout the 664 years of Muslim Rule in India. It was in Qutab Complex that Qutbu’D-din-aibak, Iltutmish and Balban, who were mere slaves were able to rise to the highest position of the sultans of the country and were Razia Sultana, the daughter of Iltutmish reigned.

I was surprised to learn that the slave trade had occurred between East Africa and India around the same time as the Pan-American slave trade (Indian Express, pg 5) but even more surprised to learn about the difference in their purpose and treatment. The slaves in India were originally from Ethiopia, but were known as Habshis or Siddis (a term derived from the North African term used to show respect). They were used as “elite military slaves, who served purely political tasks for their owners” (pg 5). The Siddi or Habshis even rose to hold prominent positions of power in Indian society and politics and even developed their own kingdom in Janjira with their own cavalry, coat of arms and currency (pgs 7-8). I had never imagined slaves holding prominent positions of power in any society and I realize the fluidity in society, even among African slaves. This knowledge made me reevaluate my personal definition of a slave which I had always subconsciously associated to African slaves in the United States.

I was even more amazed to learn that a woman once ruled Delhi, as early as 1236 A.D. Razia Sultana, the daughter of Iltutmish, was the only female to ever rule Lalkot, defying the political, social and religious customs of the time. At a time when women were veiled and secluded to harems, Razia defied the status quo and existing gender norms once again, by putting down her iier veil (purdah) and appearing in public audience in male dress. To me, Razia’s home city of Lalkot, represents the defiance of social norms and the emancipation of women and their empowerment. As we left the Qutab Minar, I could not help but leave feeling a sense of pride and inspiration, knowing that hundreds of years previously a woman, who was the daughter of a former slave, once ruled the earth I was walking on at this moment...

Amita Gupta
tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1119800 2017-01-02T16:34:03Z 2017-01-14T09:57:23Z Education that is Multicultural - Exploring the neighborhood

This blog is authored by Study Abroad India student Aminata Diop who is a Ph.D candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. She is also the Executive Assistant to the Dean of Education at City College. This is her first time visiting India.


January 1st 2017 was the first day of our winter class in New Delhi, India. The morning started with breakfast at the Southgate Hotel followed by a quick meeting in the lobby where Professor Gupta gave us a general overview of the history of India and the history of education in India. Discussing the power of spirituality in India, we could confirm its significance by just looking around the lobby of the hotel. On the far left corner right next to the newspaper stand was a framed picture of the goddess Jagad Dhatri (also called Sherawali) riding a tiger. She is a powerful figure in Hindu religion and spirituality and symbolizes the feminine creative power of the universe. Next to that were brass idols of Krishna and Ganesha, two popular Hindu gods. As we wrapped up the conversation about the history of India, we set off on a walking tour to explore the "colony" as neighborhoods are referred to.

As we walked we saw a man in his 60s ironing clothes by the roadside, on a makeshift table, and placing them in a pile on a red mailbox next to him. This iron was filled with hot coals, far different from the electric irons we are used to in the U.S., but seemed to iron just perfectly. In the absence of sidewalks we walked on the roadside in a single line, one behind the other, to maneuver incoming traffic. We passed different types of stores (e.g., Fortis Health world, Chitrumai Jewels, Café Coffee Day, beauty salons next to each other, couple of spas, electronic stores, many fruit and vegetable vendors, etc.). As we walked the local people frequently stared at us, while a couple of beggars aggressively asked us for money. A number of street dogs lay around sleeping in the sun. Further on, we saw an old man seated on the ground surrounded by his baskets of orange, red, white, and yellow fragrant flowers - jasmine, marigolds, and roses. In a very calm and smiley way, he threaded different flowers into short chains called gajaras intended to be worn by women in their hair. Not too far away from the flower man were a couple of familiar western fast food chain stores: a Pizza Hut and a Dunkin Donut. We saw a large number of autorikshaws (also called scooters in Delhi) - green and yellow three-wheeled vehicles for local transportation. The rickshaw drivers stop wherever they see people on the streets and honk to get their attention looking for passengers. As we circled through a very quiet residential street, we saw a broom-seller wheeling a bicycle loaded various kinds of colorful brooms,as well as a vegetable seller wheeling his cart full of fresh vegetables. I learned later that small merchants such as these contributed to a very high percentage of the national economy.

In light of the current state of demonetization in India, as the deactivation of certain currency bills have sent the cash flow in India into quite a downward spiral, I wonder the impact on small business vendors such as the garland seller, the ironing man, the broom seller….no doubt their income will be deeply affected. In this current cash crunch situation no doubt these vendors are more likely to see their sales plummet resulting in less revenue, which can affect them financially as they work so hard to survive and take care of their families.

This thought stuck with me later as we ate one of the best Indian cuisines I had in my life, but then again what else should one expect when in India?

Amita Gupta
tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1119498 2016-12-31T16:37:13Z 2016-12-31T16:38:24Z Why Study Abroad in India?

I am taking this course because....

Amita Gupta
tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1119495 2016-12-31T16:15:02Z 2016-12-31T16:15:02Z CCNY Study Abroad India

We are all here in India!!

Amita Gupta
tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1116140 2016-12-17T02:44:11Z 2016-12-17T02:44:11Z Study Abroad in India!!

"Thirteen students,  mix of undergraduates, graduate and Phd candidates from three institutions, make up the first cohort of participants in the new City College of New York-India Study Abroad program starting on January 1 in New Delhi. Ten of the group are from City College, two from The Graduate Center, CUNY; and one from Lehman College..."

Read more at:


Amita Gupta
tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1109865 2016-11-21T22:49:20Z 2016-11-21T22:49:20Z Diverse Early Childhood Education: Policies and Practices --- Chapter 4

Teaching Character, Citizenship, and Cultural Values

Chapter 4 highlights the widespread emphasis observed in the teaching of character, citizenship and cultural values in schools across Asia. Descriptions of school environments and classrooms are accompanied with a discussion to highlight how many of the curriculum decisions made and values taught in the classrooms were reflective of larger national and cultural values in these societies.

Passages from Chapter 4:

"...A cultural value that is central to the Asian worldview and which appeared to be emphasized in schools, homes and in general society is the “importance given to guests and strangers – people who represent the “other”. The notion of hospitality is pervasive and made a strong appearance during my meetings with the participants” (Gupta, 2013, p. 73). Within the socio-cultural context of India, for instance, a deeper explanation for this phenomenon “may possibly be found in the ancient scriptures where it is clearly written “atitih devo bhavah” which implies that your guest is like your God. Thus across the various socio-economic classes and castes in Indian society, it is believed that a guest should be welcomed with the utmost respect and hospitality, and this belief is practiced actively and widely…extending hospitality toward a guest or a stranger is accorded high priority in the scheme of duty..." This value given to hospitality was found in schools and institutions across other Asian cultures as well..." (page 77).

"...At the Singapore Neon primary school I was met by the principal and two teachers who welcomed me into a large meeting room with a long conference table set up for a power point presentation. Along one wall of the room was a table with refreshments: coffee, tea, mini fruit tarts, and Chinese carrot cake which is not at all the carrot cake I was familiar with. This version is a rectangular piece made by steaming rice flour with shredded turnip in it, and then deep frying the steamed cake after coating with a light batter. I have to say the carrot cake and the fruit tarts were just delicious, and our hosts were extremely receptive and attentive to us – welcoming and hospitable..." (page 78).

"...When I visited Dogwood Kindergarten in China, I was greeted warmly and effusively by the school principal and assistant principal. They spent two hours taking me around the school and introducing me to the teachers in each classroom, and allowing me to carefully observe the classrooms, interact with the children and take pictures. In each classroom, the teachers encouraged one of the children to greet me and present me with a gift: a piece of art or craftwork that children had made during their classroom activities..." (page 78).

"...One of the most memorable moments was in Sri Lanka. I was scheduled to meet with a group of early childhood educators - five women who were mostly retired or close to retiring from active service, but all of whom had been pioneers in the field of early education in Sri Lanka having been deans, founding chairs and professors in universities. They could be credited to laying down the foundations for the field of pre-primary and primary education by initiating and leading national projects for the Sri Lankan government in the 1960’s and 70’s. After an enthusiastic and very informative conversation with the group, my host invited us all to her home for lunch in my honor. That she had organized a feast is a complete understatement as the lunch included at least 10 local Sri Lankan dishes..." (page 79).

Read more  in Chapter 4 about other character, citizenship, and cultural values emphasized in schools in Asia.

Amita Gupta
tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1109861 2016-11-21T22:30:57Z 2016-11-21T22:30:57Z Diverse Early Childhood Education: Policies and Practices --- Chapter 3

Play-based and Child-centered Pedagogy

Chapter 3 is focused more closely on this policy shift from a traditional approach to a play-based and child-centered pedagogy. The chapter begins with the definition of a “child-centered” pedagogy as constructed within the progressive education framework in the “west”. It further includes a description and discussion of where, how and to what extent the policy changes in Asia are/are not being reflected in local classroom practices with regard to teachers’ perceptions on play, the classroom environments, and curriculum planning.

Passages from Chapter 3 (pages 22-24):

"...Within the western discourse of play in early childhood education, however, there seems to be some consensus on very fundamental characteristics of play such as: play is incompletely functional and the actions involved do not contribute to a goal; play is spontaneous, rewarding or voluntary; it has a repetitive quality; it can be fragmented and exaggerated; it is initiated in the absence of acute stress; and there is a preference for performance over outcomes (Burghardt, 2011; Smith, 2010). But with national debates focusing so intently on play-based pedagogies there is no doubt that early childhood educators world over feel the intense pressure to justify that play is learning, and activities done in the classrooms are characterized and labeled as learning through play.

            The above ideas that accompany the conceptualization of a child-centered and play-based pedagogy are, nevertheless, still challenged in their actual implementation in the classrooms of most schools in the developing world. The practical application of child-centered approaches is consistently challenged by the difficult ground realities of classrooms...

• cultural incursions that occur due to conflicting worldviews;

• political contexts that do not support the democratic essence of learner-centered education,

• inadequate space available in schools and classrooms;

• inadequate basic health care and nutrition available to all children;

• scarcity of basic supplies in schools and classrooms such as furniture, running water, electricity and sanitation facilities;

• inadequate classroom resources including learning materials, time and space;

• teachers who have inadequately, or never, been trained in the pedagogy of play and child-centered approaches, and who are unable to make classroom decisions on a regular basis with regard to the use of classroom materials and the use of classroom time.

• teachers who have been inadequately trained and equipped with the tools and time to document children’s voices/experiences to create assessment portfolios which are key to assess individual children in a learner-centered classroom. Assessment techniques recommended in the “western” discourse of child-centered education include capturing moments of children’s play and work using tools like cameras, camcorders, anecdotal reports, and observations of children in centers like the block area, book corner, writing center, dramatic play, art center;

• large class sizes which do not support the one-on-one teacher child instruction that is central to learner-centered pedagogy, children in classrooms of 40-60  cannot voluntarily engage with activities related to their interests;

• children who do not start school equipped with decision-making skills that are essential to successfully navigating a child-centered and choice-based classroom, and are unfamiliar with making choices with regard to their engagement with classroom life

...The last two items on this list are, perhaps the most challenging in terms of cultural differences and reflect on the fundamental nature of the Asian worldview regarding the child-adult relationship: first, there is generally, a longer dependency period and a more extended child-adult continuity within Asian families; and second, the right to choose according to one’s own interest is based on an individual-orientation worldview, whereas general childrearing practices in Asia are based on a group-orientation worldview.

Tobin et al (2009) demonstrate that schools in urban China have embraced an emphasis on dramatic and imaginative play in the early childhood curriculum because the stakeholders there are now viewing imagination and creativity to be the prerequisite skills for later success in entrepreneurship. But here too, as is to be expected, the full implementation of this pedagogy is challenged by factors such as teachers’ own inexperience in play and play methods; and parents’ expectations for skill mastery in playing musical instruments, writing Chinese characters, and knowing how to use the abacus to solve math problems (Vong, 2012)..."

Amita Gupta
tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1080953 2016-08-13T16:32:12Z 2016-11-21T22:31:37Z Diverse Early Childhood Education: Policies and Practices --- Chapter 1

 Introduction: Expanding the Discourse of Early Childhood Education and Teacher Education

Chapter 1 introduces the book with a narrative account of existing tensions between the dominant discourse and local practices in non-western school settings. The chapter emphasizes the interfacing of local and global elements in the creation of a hybrid space in some classroom practices in Asia, and urges the development and expansion of a third space in theory based on research conducted in the local context. A discussion on the conceptual frameworks utilized in the study follows, with an overview of the current global spotlight on early childhood education. The chapter ends with a brief overview of the research methodology underlying this study.

Passages taken from Chapter 1:

"...Cross-cultural research has indeed consistently highlighted the different constructions of childhood within diverse social, political, and cultural contexts (Cannella, 1997; Bloch, 1992; Kessler, 1991,1992; Delpit, 1995; Katz, 1996; Viruru, 2001; Trawick-Smith, 2006; Gupta, 2006; Tobin et al., 2009; Marfo & Biersteker, 2011; Brooker, 2011). However, for the longest time, it has been the Western voice and knowledge that have dominated the early childhood educational discourse. Emerging diversities regarding images of children and childhood have thus worked to create a tension between the Western discourse of early childhood education and teacher education theory, and the cultural worldviews of the non-West..." (page 1)

"...This then begs the question of how the “voice” of pedagogy and educational theory can be made more inclusive and multilayered. A good place to start is by asking what it is that sustains the status quo of educational and teacher education theory and what prevents it from incorporating a more expansive knowledge base. Referring to the important ways in which indigenous knowledge could contribute to the educational experience of all students, Semali and Kincheloe note that “because of the rules of evidence and the dominant rules of epistemologies of Western knowledge production, such understandings are deemed irrelevant by the academic gatekeepers” (Semali & Kincheloe, 1999, p. 15)..." (page 2).

"...Curricular reformers in Asia today are grappling with the hegemonical expectations of Western culture at the global level on one hand and the need for a more culturally relevant curriculum at the local level on the other hand. During the course of this research in Asia, it was observed that many educational centers/schools for young children were touting philosophies and mission statements that were couched heavily in the language of the Western discourse. Being seen as an “international school,” a “world-class school,” a school having “global standards,” a school based on “international methods” and offering “English-medium instruction” seemed all of a sudden to afford the centers credibility and make them eligible for funding from a variety of local, national, and international sources. This is painfully reminiscent of the educational policies in colonial India that required schools to use English as the language of instruction if they were to be funded by the British Administration. Today, that language of pedagogy is taken from the progressive discourse of the West against whose standards schools are evaluated around the world...." (page 4).

For more, please read Chapter 1 in this book.

Amita Gupta
tag:amitagupta.com,2013:Post/1080950 2016-08-13T16:09:10Z 2016-08-13T16:09:10Z Diverse Early Childhood Education: Policies and Practices

The full title of my book that was published by Routledge in 2014 is:

Diverse Early Childhood Education: Policies and Practices

Voices and Images from Five Countries in Asia

In subsequent posts I will be highlighting one chapter at a time, providing a chapter overview, as well as a passage taken from the text.

Stay tuned!!

Amita Gupta