The Happy Heart School

Living lifelong human care, development, education, learning and service for all.

Obtuse Instructions


Obtuse Instructions

(for EdCamp Singapore #2, and especially for my fellow madhatters organising this earnest endeavour – Vashima Goyal, Himal Ruparel, Kenneth Ngo, Manju Nair, Yilin Chong and two juniors, Ameya and Keith)

I am watching Keith go to bed, smiling, grinning from ear to ear. It’s been several nights now. In fact, 6 months since he left anything resembling organised schooling. His eyes shining, twinkling, and he proudly declaring, “Happy Heart”. And in a bit, without fail, he would double announce to me, “Happy.” (I take it to mean – I am decidedly and unequivocally happy, mom.”)

I should be ecstatic right? As a mom, I am leaping for joy! But as a mom who has taken on the task of his development and education, I am flabbergasted. What do I do with all the therapy and teacher resource materials, which seem more and more like my own abstract co-curricular activity as the years go by. Why, I might as well be reading something as obtuse as how to crochet and while the accumulation of knowledge or learning is pleasurable for me, it doesn’t really serve any applicable function, because either I don’t really want to crochet, or the idea of learning to crochet is fun but doing it isn’t really what I really am interested in, or really, no one would be interested in a hand crocheted sweater, and more really, who needs a sweater in the tropics? In the end, what it is that is giving me pleasure is not crocheting but learning through reading.

And so it is the same with all the patchwork of neuroscience, developmental intervention and education paradigms that I had clobbered together, thinking that clobbering together shelves and shelves of books might equip me to be able to help direct and design my son’s very enigmatic preference and manner of learning. He is largely non-verbal and I am largely verbal. He is always moving and I am always sitting on a sofa typing. He intuits everything while I analyze everything, including social and intrapersonal emotions. He is cooperative, I like to work alone. He is social, I prefer to eat alone. He is always empathic while I wonder why people don’t just sort out their mess instead of whining. He is literate and I doubt his literacy. He is learned and I can’t see and cannot affirm his very astounding (self-directed) education.

Until today. 9.5 years is a long time to be blind and stubborn. Too long. Way too long for a mom and aspiring inclusive educator.

And so I stop struggling. I ditch my own panic and need to be an aspiring inclusive educator and advocate. I stop it. I stop my imaginary crocheting. I stop dreaming that I can gain mastery and be able to control my son’s development and education.

And once I ditch this fantasy, I see it. I see what he has been doing since day 1. He has been learning and he has been happy. He has been mostly very joyful except for those moments when he is coerced into a particular framework of performing or development. When he is either in a tussle with me, his dad, his sister, his caregivers or his teachers about how to go about learning and spending his day. In fact, some of these moments of non-choice or disabled/oppressed learning have made him downright angry and enraged.

Where is the faith? I get it now. The look of sadness in his eyes when he is not believed in, when he is not understood, when he is thought of as less-than, when his intelligence and compassion simply shunned and lorded over. And conveniently tucked away by those in authority as unreal, unexisting.

I look at him and I see his engagement.

They are not the same words you and I use. The language is a whole language. It is largely inaudible. But it is always pure, self-possessed, learned, and loving.

“Let’s play together and be happy. Let’s spend the day in wonder, awe and gratitude, and getting to know each other,” Keith communicates this, as a whole person. This is Keith’s perennial invitation.

It is that simple and yet we search the whole world to unpack the density of this very simple, yet completely mindboggling science, art and mystery of satisfaction, meaning, joy and enjoyment:

Safe, secure, life-giving, authentic freedom.

This necessitates living and growing on a solid bedrock of – Trust.

And tenderness.

The nurturing space to learn – to make one’s own meaning and purpose, and to share the bliss – the wonder of life and the world – with another fellow human being, who cares and listens deeply and with great mutual concern – that of a true friend.

Just exactly like how I am doing now through this writing.

I realise learning or development and education is as obtuse as this activity. Yes, as writing. Yes, I am saying writing is obtuse.

And I don’t really know what obtuse means, but it keeps coming up in this piece of reflection.

You can’t tell what activity comes next that would make your heart burst forth with delight, wild with excitement, have you jumping out of bed to discover the adventure of life without brushing your teeth, combing your hair, eager and ready to go-go-go, your mind content and satisfied with the as is, with the engagement for the simple and honest purity of being with it and for fully allowing this deep meaningful peace to reside in your entire wholeness, that allows focus to sit beside restlessness, because both are no longer consciously relevant to the endeavour. To the task at hand. To the living and learning that have become one and the same.

Yes. A happy heart is a peaceful heart at full ease indeed.

And it does simply show up as an inner glow that shines, “Happy.”

I am a happy and contented and blissful mom today.

After hours and days and weeks and months and years and years and years of struggling to meet (not just see, but meet wholly) – my son.

But perhaps it is in the meeting of me that he sees, that I am truly free.

Peng-Ean Khoo
February 2, 2017

2 comments on “Obtuse Instructions

  1. Mary H
    February 2, 2017

    Bless your heart, Peng-Ean. You are doing such a great job with Keith! Keep writing and sharing your experience! Maybe one day, when I have enough courage, I might join you in educating my little K.

    – Mary

  2. myglassroom
    February 2, 2017

    This is such a courageous piece Peng Ean, you needed to be in this place of joy and trust, hold on to that without ever letting the dust of thoughts and self-doubt settle down again. I don’t know what obtuse means either but it reminded me of the obtuse angle, and it made me picture you moving away from the fulcrum, like the ever-diverging line. Now you have steadied yourself, to stand upright and resolute.

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