Dialogue  April-June, 2010, Volume 11 No. 4

Questioning Modern Education: A Way Out

 Pawan Kumar Gupta*

 Violence at the individual level has always been there but violence perpetuated by the system(s) has surpassed all proportions in the last few centuries. The power of the modern systems rests with its remoteness and faceless nature. This is both frustrating (for those few who try to understand and struggle to find a way out) and mesmerizing for the remaining. The irony is that the victim or the exploited has (unknowingly) become an accomplice in this game; and those who see the game, are often too self conscious to openly criticize it, unlike the Mahatma, as they find themselves enslaved by its trappings, in one way or the other. On the whole the modern systems encourage the violent and competitive tendencies existing in individuals.

      Human beings have invented categories, just like they have invented instruments and systems for convenience to achieve a certain specific purpose. But Reality is not a construct. It is a given. To understand the reality, as it exists, we human beings need education and to facilitate the process, we invent categories and subjects. Categories and subjects are only a means to achieve a certain objective – to understand reality and then according to this understanding of reality, to establish meaningful relationships with various components in existence – the material world, the pranic world, the kingdom of birds and animals and the human beings.

     Reality exists. It IS. We can only try to understand and experience it, we can not create it. We use different means – subjects, categories, instruments - for this purpose. But we have an option. We can experience reality the way it IS or we can perceive reality as different from the way it IS. We have the freedom either to assume reality or to understand and experience it – the way it IS.

     Words and meanings are distinct. Words are only indicative of the meaning – the reality. The priority is of the meaning, which is beyond language. Meaning is the objective, words are only a means. Meanings exist whether we understand or not, while words are a construct to depict the meaning. Words are restricted in language, while meanings are beyond language. Meaning has a higher value than words. But modern education perpetuates the myth that words are meanings and are the same; that they are synonymous. If the distinction is not clear we get trapped by words (and the meaning that gets imposed on these words as different from the real). In that case under false assumption, we under-evaluate meaning and over-evaluate the word. 

     Modernity is adept at creating similar confusion between reality and construct, between the objective and the means, between the real and the apparent. So modern categories have assumed or imposed meanings as different from the reality. Instead of using categories for our purpose we start getting used by the categories. This gives modernity the power over our minds, over our aspirations, desires and thus over our actions.

      The paradigm of Values is different from the paradigm of Price. Values are based on reality and are intrinsic, are nirapeksha, while the other is an imposition, based on comparison – sapeksha. Values are fixed, definitive and intrinsic and beyond time and space – they do not depend on the individual or societal preferences. For instance, the Value of clothing is its ability to provide protection to the body whether we prefer a particular kind of clothes or not. Price depends on external factors and is impacted among others, by both time and space. Modern education creates confusion between these two paradigms by equating the two thus over-evaluating the paradigm of price and under-evaluating the paradigm of value.  Thus:

        Words get equated with or even supersede the meaning;
        Understanding the other gets confused with Agreeing with the other;
        Training gets equated and confused with Education;
        Information with Knowledge;
        Empirical knowledge/ traditional knowledge become Superstition;
        Subjects and Categories take precedence over Objective/ Knowledge and Experience;
        Means get confused with objective;
        No distinction is made between Believing or Assuming without knowing and Knowing;
        Perceiving gets equated with knowing;
        Provisional with the Definitive;
        Appearance (lagna) or Doing (karma) with Being (hona);
        Arrogance with Self esteem;
    Confidence based on comparison (sapeksha atma vishwas) with nirapeksha atma vishwas Freedom (man marzi) with                         swatantrata (self organized);
        Reasoning and Logic with Experiencing and Understanding;
        Philosophy (a category) with Darshan (which is beyond category);
        Different with Opposite;
        “Development” with Real progress/ contentment;

      This is how modern myth is created – at one level it falsely equates higher value with a lower one by imposing the transient or provisional over the definitive and at other level it creates false categories and creates artificial oppositions. This starts in school when we teach “opposites”. Black vs, white; Day vs. Night but it does not stop there. It goes on.. Man vs. woman. Boy vs. Girl, East vs. West and later on gets translated into Hindu vs. Muslim, Developed vs. undeveloped etc. etc.  Adjectives are another big problem if do not teach them with the awareness that they are relative, that they are subjective.

     The over emphasis of modern science - which has cast its influence on all disciplines of learning - on reasoning and has conditioned the mind to be only satisfied with an apparently reasonable sounding answer to the ‘why’ is another obstacle to seeing reality in its totality. Observation and experiencing a phenomena in its totality is not appreciated while a partial answer to ‘why’ satisfies people trained in modern education. We are conditioned to think we know when actually we are only believing. The over emphasis on ‘Why’ and ‘How’ has under played the importance of ‘What’.

    In SIDH we have tried to challenge some of these categories and assumptions of modern education. The emphasis is on ‘how to think’ rather than ‘what to think’. Rather than teaching what the Mahatma said we try to understand why he may have said what he said:

        why he never ever used the word ‘development’ in his writings or speeches without first qualifying it; we try and understand      the assumptions behind the word “development”;
        what is the relationship between non violence and courage to be, to be able to say no; not to be restricted by categories even of the man made law, if need be;
        what is the difference between opposing and non cooperation/ ignoring;
        what is the difference between sameness and equality;
        what is value;
        what is the difference between angreziat and angrezi;
        the difference between respect or trust and its demonstration;
        what are systems and how they (unknowingly) mould our thinking and actions;
        what are categories and how they may (unknowingly) influence us;
        what is the difference between getting influenced and getting inspired;
        how we can teach without textbooks by using the local – environmental and cultural – context;
        and lastly we try to refrain from using “should” in our schools.

     We feel it is extremely important today to challenge the myths and categories created by modernity through education. This is the only way out and pave the path towards real freedom. Our experience is that it is possible to teach these things even to very young children. Once we are able to do this “Hind Swaraj” becomes easy to understand.

Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

                                               Astha Bharati