Marudam at heart is a common living and learning space, shared by students, teachers, and the wider community.
We aim for learning which is cooperative, inclusive, participative and contextual. As in life, we believe that the ‘process’ is far more important and meaningful than the end “goal”.
We hope that such a space allows for a deep sense of joy, sensitivity, awareness and well-being within each individual and the society as a whole.
Marudam at heart is a common living and learning space, shared by students, teachers, and the wider community.
Our ethos and pedagogy stands on many legs, but one idea connects all points and holds them tightly – the knowledge that all things are interconnected. All of Nature, its beings and phenomena, are in constant and ever evolving relationships, dependent and inseparable from, one another.
And so, in a world where people tend to live in watertight compartments within massive cities, disconnected from nature and from each other, losing sight of how interdependent all of life is, we chose to seek and be aware of what holds us close – to ourselves, to each other, and to the nature and life around us.
Making Connections, thus, is an underlying theme for us, bonding school, farm and community; relating us to each other, to society at large; confirming us inseparable from our own environment.
connecting with nature and the environment
Early in this new millennium, we had the opportunity and privilege to begin our work of nurturing nature through afforestation, conservation and re-wilding of the Arunachala hill and its surrounds. This work provided the perfect starting point and has acted as the bedrock from which all our other endeavours have flowered. Our vision grew organically out of this and along came different people with passion who played their part in making the visions come alive.
Out of these efforts soon came the understanding of the importance of integrating education into our work, and for nurturing ecological awareness and sensitivity in the next generation. Through being in nature, and encouraging close observation and study we have tried to encourage appreciation of, and respect for, all fellow beings of the planet. Trees and plants, cats and dogs, cows, birds, insects and reptiles are some of the people integral to our community. We attempt to learn about them and from them, and are happy when we see our children- regardless of where they come from – finding their place among them.
Looking at relationships on a societal level, as people who have moved into a rural setting and put down our home here, we seriously engage with the question of what our role is within this social ecosystem – what we are bringing to this space, what we are able to learn from people who have lived here for long, how we can bring our understanding and learning to them and so on. We try to grasp and question existing social structures and taboos. Through inclusion and integration, we try to inculcate in children the values of equality and acceptance of differences and of ‘the other’. This happens through a careful admission process where we make sure we take students from vastly varied and diverse backgrounds.
Needless to say, the school openly disregards any kind of discrimination while questioning any notion of unfairness imposed by society on grounds such as caste, class, gender or other. Understanding each other is not always easy in such a diverse mix, but that’s exactly the challenge we hold high and work on with open hearts and minds.
One forum which facilitates deeper understanding and airing of differences is “circle time” – a weekly session for each group where such dialogues takes place. The teachers who, like the student body, have also come from very diverse back grounds, have similar ’circle times’ within the regular school meetings.
The structure of the school itself is informal and, as much as possible, non-hierarchical, with decisions taken collectively. This promotes a sense of equality and provides for autonomy in work while most of us are doubling on being with children with taking up farm work, conservation work, construction, crafts and more. There is an attempt to create fluidity in connections between the teachers, the administration, the non-teaching staff, and the students through shared responsibilities, decision making and open feedback loops through reflective spaces.
Earth Connections – sending roots in the soil
Even whilst being diverse in the extreme, and with many of us coming from far and wide, we firmly believe in being Local. We respect the place and culture in which we chose to take root – not blindly – but consciously. And so, due importance and place is given to the Tamil language, and the school is truly Tamil-English bilingual. Though none of the founders are fully local, and though exposure to other cultures is a significant aspect of our lives, we are clear that our primary vision for the school is to cater to the educational needs of local children. However, we do take in a few children from other backgrounds when families make a complete shift, often leaving behind jobs and comfort, in order to live more sustainably and close to nature.
Being situated, as we are, amidst rural Tamil Nadu, make for further connections to the land and the environment and being a ‘farm school’, life in the campus goes well beyond the school name. Actively growing our own food, engaging with the land throughout the different seasons and trying to be as sustainable as we can mean a lot to us.
Connecting within, body and soul
’Healthy mind in a healthy body’ is an old saying, describing the irrefutable truth of how inherently body and mind are connected, the health of one is dependent on the health of the other. We believe that movement is one of the most fundamentally important key for one’s health, a key that, sadly, is too often over-looked in our technologically centered society. Learning to use our body through land work and physical education is a strong driving force in Marudam, instructive in the way we design the activities and environment of the school.
Arts and crafts, as well as drama, theatre and music, are not mere activities for us – they are all given equal importance along with academics because it is evident to us that they help forge allegiances both with our deepest selves and the world around us. These mediums provide opportunities for healing and expression like no other, and can bridge between different individuals and different cultures alike.
We are also in awe by the myriad learning experiences and joy which naturally occur and facilitated through free play once enough time and space is enabled. Free play takes different forms through out life, but we always try to give it its due place of honour in the curriculum.
connecting to the wider world
Informing ourselves and connecting the dots between history far and wide, political developments and current affairs is another important and alive aspect of our pedagogy. This is done regularly with the students, and at times result in outreach programs which the students, teachers and parents take part in.
Being a small and sharing environment, Marudam parents’ body is an integral part of the school. Many of our parents are involved in working with us through The Forest Way, the Farm, in the school itself or in the outreach programmes or as volunteers with various activities. Regardless of these, any parent’s openness to join the learning process as it unfolds, brings relevance to, enhances, and expands relationships.
It’s worth mentioning our trips in this context, as they provide ample opportunities to learn about different ways of life and other cultures, about the working of other conservation projects. Our ‘Craft Week,’ is an outreach program where we host a myriad of people from very different environments with different talents and skills.
Our curriculum is a dynamically evolving one flowing with the interest (questions) and requirements of the children and also guided by the passions of the teacher/ facilitator and situational opportunities. For instance, we feel privileged to be able to study bird migration as we observe the migratory birds in our surroundings every winter. Or, what better time and opportunity to study about a cyclonic system than when it is occurring? We strongly believe in contextual learning, which means using local opportunities to facilitate learning. Every setting has scope for rich engagement. Our rural surrounds, for instance, provide us with immense learning about different crops and their cycles, farmers’ socioeconomics, climate, soils, ground water, history and much more.
The curriculum and learning processes, as well as other aspects of the school are the result of numerous iterative processes of classes, meetings and dialogue among teachers and students, stretching over years. But we are ready to drop the existing plan for a better one if it comes up and create custom made ones to suit individuals or groups. It is, to sum up, dynamic, and at times also chaotic and bewildering to a new teacher or visitor!
⁃ diverse Teaching styles
We consider the knowledge pool we have as priceless. We have teachers from different educational backgrounds,localities and even nationalities. The experiences and character they bring to the school are invaluable. Not only teachers, each and every member of the group provides very important life lessons to children from farmers to cooks. Also, teachers are given complete autonomy to express their unique gifts. As a result we have influences from Steiner, Krishnamorty, Montessori etc
⁃ Mixed age and grouping.
Even Though children are grouped based on age, there is always fluidity in movement between these groups. On nature days, when learning certain skills from volunteers, during crafts week and trips or even during certain classes, the children in the primary groups interact and exchange with ease and camaraderie.
We follow an organic trajectory in more than one way, and growing organic food is an obvious one. Also, our farming is mainly of local produce, and whatever we grow is used for school lunches. Our menu thus includes millets, indigenous greens, vegetables and fruits, and what we cannot cultivate ourselves we source from local farmers, which foster more connections and promote knowledge and resources exchange. As a result, as much as we can, we locally eat local food grown locally.
This embodied knowledge goes deep and offer myriad opportunities for learning, an example of bringing learning as close as possible to living.
Water is a constant theme for us. We worship rain and since our area usually suffers from water shortage, we try to always be mindful with our water usage, recycling whenever we can. Same goes for any natural or man made resources, though we still have a long way to go.
We attempt to build as ecologically as we can under government regulations, and are lucky to be running mostly on solar electricity.
Simplicity is part of the founding ethos of Marudam and Forest way. We travel by public transport, use compost toilets, and generally prefer things which are basic, honest and handmade over luxuries and anything ostentatious. I our opinion, money doesn’t have inherent merits and is rather a mean to an end.
Non-consumerism: This is very evident from what we are. Money and its status are not equated with the value of a person or held in primary esteem, neither are other common markers of success such as fame, wealth and social status. This simple approach to life is present in every aspect of school including admissions, salaries, fees etc.