Let's start with the outrageous: Why is it that a woman wearing a Niqab a sign of oppression while consuming umpteen bottles of wine and getting drunk a sign of freedom? While this may appear to be a question designed to irritate the French, what this is really about is a concept the French pioneered: Liberty!Liberty is central to the proposition of Western Education in the traditional societies - it is supposed to make one free - but when one is in a debate such as this, it makes sense to go beyond the rhetoric and what this stands for.
Western Education, which could be defined as a system of education representing the values and beliefs of the European and North American societies and which are usually imposed on societies of lesser means with superior financial and publicity support, draws its legitimacy from four interlinked philosophical claims: That it makes one free, that it creates refinement, that it helps to build superior and prosperous societies, and it enables agency and change. These claims are presented in contrast to what a traditional education could offer - and by implication, the traditional education is seen as one restricting individuals in a social hierarchy, confining them into backwardness and poverty, causing low economic growth and social deprivation, and dis-empowering the individual and binding them to a structure.
While the question of Niqab versus Alcohol is politically loaded and often used by fanatics of different sorts to justify violations of rights and freedom of innocent people, we may use it for a limited purpose to expose what the concept of liberty, as advertised to be a core proposition of Western Education, has come to mean. The freedom, as implied here, is the freedom to consume: Regardless of social norms, environmental constraints, and even financial means, as finding new ways of indebtedness is one of the great achievements of Western civilisation, one must be free to consume! Anything else, deviation from social norms of consumption, preaching restraint, all fall outside this concept of freedom: The idea that one could deprive oneself from being seen - and desired - is an anathema to this idea of liberty.
The idea of refinement is indeed defined in these terms as well. The serene beauty of a traditional location must be packaged and presented to be counted as a worthwhile place to visit or to live in. Refinement may demand that one attains a certain lifestyle, ability to consume fine wine produced in a certain region of France among them, even if this means giving up one's family home and being an immigrant in search of economic means to attain such consumption. Refinement also means being able to speak in certain languages with the correct diction, even if this means accent training and neutralising one's own way of speaking. It means desiring certain objects and not others, and most certainly not the traditional, the obvious, the old and whatever came from one's grandfather.
That Western Education creates prosperous societies is supported by the claim that it had helped create prosperous societies in the West, though the other major factor that helped in such prosperity - piracy and pillage - is played down and other societies are discouraged from using it. Education, in this view, is seen as a tool, an external technical method, rather than a social contract that emerges based on certain ideas and values inherent in the host societies. The problem of such technical view of education is that it deprives its recipient from a sense of culture. If anyone wonders why an Indian Professional would spend a great amount of money taking a holiday in Switzerland but would do nothing to clean the streets in front of his house, and even throw garbage on it, is perhaps this limiting of education to imported technicalities, and destroying the links between an individual and his immediate surrounding. The flawed notion that the march to prosperity in the West was a smooth march of innovation and improvement of competence underlie this prescription, but the historical realities of Western societies, where the experience has been messy and often accidental and free of any imposed education system, and the actual experience of most traditional societies over the last half century give evidence on the contrary.
Finally, the claim of individual agency is based on a dialectical relationship with everything else, most prominently with nature as worshipped in traditional societies. While we may have different views about whether man should see nature as a resource, and how far one should subject natural resources to one's own demands and desires, using up one's own environment for pursuit of a consumption goal set by distant metropolitan masters of the world is an act of self-destruction. And, indeed, individual agency in this concept goes as far as just that - submission to the ideas of human worth as defined by the masters of the universe - and denying all other competing concepts of existence. Such a journey is destined to end at Margaret Thatcher's point of no return of 'there is no thing as society' - and that end is messy and rather scary! We are anecdotally aware of the perils of the unrestrained individual agency, without a balancing idea of individual ethic: With an imposed education system continuously battling, and effectively destroying, the sense of ethic that arose out of either religious commitments or simple belonging, individual agency may not appear as desirable a goal.
Questioning the value of an imposed education system should not be construed as a rejection of knowledge, which is a common human heritage, but rather an invitation to re-imagine: This imagination may follow the lines of the great educators, Western and Eastern - how to liberate human spirit, how to find beauty in one's own world, how to bond together with other human beings and how to initiate change - but not the prescription of those who wish to subjugate, restrict, divide and destroy human spirit to their own advantage.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Religi
This post is a reaction to Aatish Taseer's evocative obituary of secular India in the Atlantic ( read here ). While I agree with it mostly - and share the reservations about the direction and the future of India - I differ with the author on one key aspect: I do not agree with his portrayal of a resurgent Bharat eating up a secular India. In fact, I believe while Mr Taseer regrets the Indian elite's loss of connection with the realities of day to day life of the country, his very presentation of Bharat and India as oppositional entities stems from that incomprehension. While I understand that he is only using these categories as RSS uses them - to effectively other the English-speaking elites and non-Hindus - I believe it is a mistake to describe the profound changes in contemporary India as the ascendance of Bharat. I grew up in Bharat. I never learnt English until late in life, when I started working. My growing-up world was one of small-town India, vernacu
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen was gui
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was, as
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
A lot of conversations about Kolkata is about its past; I want to talk about its future. Most conversations about Kolkata is about its decline - its golden moments and how times changed; I want to talk about its rise, how its best may lie ahead and how we can change the times. In place of pessimism, I seek optimism; instead of inertia, I am looking for imagination. It is not about catching up, I am arguing; it is about making a new path altogether. It had, indeed it had, a glorious past: One of the first Asian cities to reach a million population, the Capital of British India, the cradle of an Enlightened Age and a new politics of Cosmopolitanism. And, it had stumbled - losing the hinterland that supplied its Jute factories, overwhelmed by the refugees that came after the partition, devoid of its professional class who chose to emigrate - the City's commercial and professional culture evaporated in a generation, and it transformed into a corrupt and inefficien
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
The story of British influence on Indian Education, to which Macaulay's Minutes of 1835 belong, has been told in six distinct phases. Syed Nurullah and J P Naik's very popular and influential History of Indian Education calls these 'six acts' of the drama: From the beginning of Eighteenth Century to 1813 The British East India Company received its charter in 1600 but its activities did not include any Educational engagement till the Charter Act of 1698, which required the Company to maintain priests and schools, for its own staff and their children. And, so it was until the renewal of its charter in 1813, when the evangelical influence led to insistence of expansion of educational activities and allowing priests back into company territory. From 1813 to Wood's Education Despatch of 1854 The renewal of Charter in 1813 re-opened the debate, which seemed to have been settled in the early years of the company administration, between the Orientalis
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.