Showing posts from September, 2015

Does Knowledge Matter?

The currently fashionable view in education is that knowledge does not matter.  The thesis goes something like this - at a time when you can search for almost anything in Google, why does one need to know anything?  So, goes the argument, the point of education is not to enhance knowledge, but to enhance professional skills. So, it is not the texts and discussions about ideas and subjects, but rather abilities such as thinking critically is the point. As long as one can do such things, they would be able to know. There are deep flaws in this view. First, can one think critically outside any domain? This view of secular professional skills, professional skills outside a domain or practise, undermines the importance of professions itself. While this is symptomatic of the time (where a humble blogger pretends to write about epistemology), the domains remain important and the blogger in question should know the limits of his endeavour. The process of education is structured

Three Questions About Free Market Economics

I stopped reading The Economist, and that makes my weekends somewhat free. For fifteen years, since the time I first left India and went on to live in Dhaka, fetching it from the shop and reading it from cover to cover was part of my Friday routine. There were early disappointments - such as its blood-curdling advocacy of the Iraq War, which clearly exposed its Western bias - but it was one essential viewpoint that I needed to understand the world.  However, I increasingly found it disagreeable for its fundamentalist approach towards Free Markets. This is not a political left / right thing. Though I am openly delighted by the election of Jeremy Corbyn as the Labour leader, who I consider to be a vast improvement over the careerist politicians we see all around (alas, one of my favourite writers, Tristram Hunt, turned out to be one of them), I would like to think that I support free markets if they are really free. These are indeed my points of agreement with The Economist - we ar

Educating For Character

Conversations change. The idea of a Nineteenth century college education could be, with some generalisation, summarised as one to build the character of the student, with the assumption that with those character strengths, they would be able to learn and lead in different walks of life. But, as professions start to emerge, Character was no longer enough. In the professional society, technical skills came into prominence, and indeed, became the point of education. The conversation reversed - a good technocrat was understood to possess the character anyway. These ideas may be at an inflection point yet again, but before we get into this, it is worth wondering what character meant and why we abandoned its quest for technical skills in the first place. I am acutely conscious of the gross generalisations that one has to make in a conversation like this, including the implication of epochal change - that one thing neatly went out of fashion when the other thing came in. For a fact, we

Becoming Global

Whether being Global is desirable depends on which side of the fence you are at. But there could be a different approach. The word Global has specific meaning in its current usage. It is no longer the descriptive word that it was meant to be, with all the idealism of universal brotherhood. Since the 90s, when money became global, it has one very intrusive meaning for the recipients of globalization, those who turned their world upside down. Becoming Global, in that sense, means being an agent of this change, with a negative connotation for those from Global South. In this specific usage, the requirements are quite well defined. English is the language of this type of globalisation - indeed, more specifically, American English - and speaking the language of investment and prioritising on money-making is a must. Another rich country language is good - how about German - as is wide familiarity of power circles. The iconography of globalisation also includes a certain look, a cer

The Political Turn

Politics is back on the agenda. For some, history ended in 1990. We arrived at a final, stable, interminable age of Capitalism, a vantage point of predicting the future where every next year was supposed to be better than the last, and constant progress could happen without changing the society. In fact, at that very moment, society stopped to matter, as the profound enabling of the individual meant that we can just pursue our own well-being, leaving the idea of progress to the workings of the market, which took care of itself. It was not very unlike what people thought before the death of God, but a radical departure from the ideas of enlightenment, when, humans became political animals with the slogan of daring to know. It is paradoxical, as at the moment of complete empowerment of the individual, a logical progression of the enlightened ideas, we chose - choice being the main theme here - to give up our powers to transform societies any further and accept the autonomous wo

Jeremy Corbyn's Moment

Jeremy Corbyn has won the Labour Leadership election with 59% of the votes. After the darkness of May, suddenly it is the season of hope again in Britain. Many people are calling it the biggest upset in British political life in many years, and they are right. No one was expecting a 66-year old, steadfastly socialist outsider to win the leadership of a party, which has all but lost its ideological roots and connection with people they represent, under the years of careerist New Labour. It has become, over the last twenty years, a party of sartorial ambitions, smooth accents and middle class obsessions, a party which is sustained by the promise of cheaper mortgages than the hope of social equality. At every turn, under the excuse of being Centrist, the Labour Party became a pale shadow of the Thatcherite conservatives, offering no alternative in the election of 2015, where a coalition legacy of the middle-of-the-road policies won the day for the Conservatives who took the credits

Kolkata: In Search of A Creative City

I have written about Kolkata at regular intervals ( see here ). I can't claim to be objective and analytical about the city, but from the experience of Kolkata, as well as of elsewhere, I know Kolkata has a future. One factor is its teeming multitude, the source of much of its woes, which can transform into a great source of strength. The other factor is the transformation of the global economy, which will open up new opportunities by breaking down the old economic structures, and Kolkata may be the right place at this right time. While Dubai or Singapore may seek to import a labour force to maintain its creative economies, Kolkata may have an indigenous source, and therefore, can complete to be Asia's Creative Capital. That would need imagination, and courage, but Kolkata has it all.  However, to discuss this, one must start with the obvious negative. The common claim is that Kolkata is a dying city - a label first slapped on the city by late Rajiv Gandhi - and the India

Recalibrating My Skills

I wish to write about two mistakes. First, I thought I would not have a mid-life crisis. Wrong. Second, after everyone else, I think it is impossible to change course of my career as late as this in my life. Wrong again. It is harder, surely, but not impossible. First, the interesting news - that I have a mid-life crisis. I know I am creating trouble for myself here by baring it. One cardinal rule for career building is perhaps to present oneself in a neat format, best things upwards, vulnerabilities folded away. Talking about the crisis I am facing is like turning up in the interview shirtless. But, I would like to believe I am among friends in this blog - no matter who you are, if you turn up to read my banter, you are a friend - and talking about vulnerabilities is fine, therefore. I wanted to live a creative life. This is the motivation behind my journeys, my forays into different interesting things, my refusal to be grounded by affections or mortgages, my obsession with

What Employers Want

Employment may not be the only goal of Higher Education, as some educators will justifiably claim, but it is certainly one of the goals.  A good Higher Education have a great impact in building character, making one free, able to appreciate beauty, cooperate with other people and bring change. Wesleyan's Michael Roth will say that the goal of education is to liberate, animate, cooperate and agitate, and Howard Gardner sum it up as the quest for Truth, Beauty and Goodness. But, beyond this ideal of education, the political nature of the education enterprise that also must be acknowledged. After a century and half of expansion of public Higher Education, Higher Ed has a clearly embedded political purpose, that of lending legitimacy to the governments as they thrive on the idea of a Middle Class society, where everyone has access to opportunity in life through Higher Education. Consequently, the enrollments in Higher Education have expanded rapidly, and in a way, what used to be

The Gandhi Method

As I wrote the earlier post declaring my intent to study Gandhi's life and death, contending that it is indeed a very 'Indian' life and death, I presumed that Gandhi mattered. It may seem too obvious a statement, but it is not the 'Father of the Nation' stature that we need to be talking about. In fact, this, and the vast cottage industry that sprung up on Gandhi iconography, can be seen in direct contrast to what the man stood for and what he wanted to achieve. We may celebrate Independent India as the great achievement of Gandhi, but there are reasons to consider this to be his great failure, though his legacy lived on.  It was a great mystery to everyone how India became democratic from the start. Most people were dismissive about Nehru's plans to offer everyone a vote even before that happened in the United States, and predicted chaos. Political Scientists, accustomed to the vaunted correlation between per capita income and democracy, could never fit i

About Gandhi and His Death

There are things that interest me, the stories of heroic and meaningful lives, the narratives of creative flowerings at certain points of time and in specific places, revolutionary ideas and why human beings, at certain points of time, degenerate into depravity and destroy their own achievements. These interests, as one could tell from my rather straight-jacket life as a business executive, lie outside my work, and only as a pastime. But, such interests are also the essence of my curiosity and creative pursuit, and define who I want to be.   There are times when I take these interests seriously and this is one such indulgent moment. My life is at a crossroad in many a sense, and a systematic enquiry is one way of uplifting myself from the compromises I have to make everyday to make a living and to be fully alive. Hence, the plan - to construct a series of essays on Gandhi - is more about my own life than about its subject.  However, the choice of the subject requires some justifi

End of European Moralism

The current crisis with migrants has one, and only one, casualty - the European moral high ground!  European governments feel uniquely entitled to lecture others about humanitarian issues. They project themselves as the keeper of morality in the world, often bombing or sanctioning against other nations when they think they are on the wrong side of the moral line. Once they faced the same test that some of the Asian and African nations face routinely, they failed though - and failed miserably. Imagine what would have happened if Iran barred refugees from coming in. Or, India left them stranded in the shores. Or, a Pakistani columnist suggested that they send gunboats to stop the infiltration. Or an African President called them swarms. If they died in a locked truck in Egypt. Or, if Sudan limited the number of people allowed to come in every year to 50.  There would be an international outrage, thousands of column inches of editorials, Hollywood stars descending on the nea

Higher Education As A Business

I have been involved in the ugly end of the Higher Education - For-profits - for too long to not to detect the puzzle that lies at the heart of Higher Education as a business. Good Higher Education, if we overcome the cynicism to believe that there is such a thing (and overcome the claim that Higher Education is a mechanism to perpetuate privilege, and nothing else), needs elements such as a community, a gift culture, a long term vision and high levels of trust, which are not common in the business world. The investment world, which gets involved in owning and running Higher Education institutions, is really at the far end of the spectrum of values from what makes good education, and while they claim to reward innovative companies, they like regimented Higher Education, and while they want Google to be more college-like, they want college to be more like a factory. Recently, Professor Malcolm Gillies, the recently retired Vice Chancellor of London Metropolitan University, argued that

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