What do we teach our children?

What do we teach our children?

Which idea of India

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These are difficult times for educators. Today, teachers are in a dilemma. Which version of India do they show their children? Is it the India they see in the news, privy to discussions at the dining tables in affluent homes or the roadside tea-joints in the slums? Or, should it be the India that was the dream of those who fought for our independence?

No matter, Right India or Left India, one thing has become evident: no one can be apathetic about politics anymore. It has crept into our daily lives, into our private space and is forcing us to have an opinion. Today, families are getting divided and friendships fracturing over opposing political sympathies, and not just over inheritance or personal gain. Neighbours are becoming faceless representations of their religion.

Let’s look at the positive side nevertheless. For the first time, after many years, the regular citizen of India is staking a claim of what he believes is her India. Gone are the days when many of us shrugged and kept a distance from politics and politicians. We have been shaken out of that slumber because today our opinion and action matters.

For a teacher, this is a great time to have debates and exchanges in schools. It is an ideal time to get our students to become researchers, analysts and critical thinkers. For generations, our students have just listened and obeyed their elders as a sign of respect. It is now time to allow the students to have an opinion and question what they are being told, to arrive at their own personal truth.

But to be a critical thinker you need to study history that is not doctored, immerse in various versions of an idea, study the lives of the famous and not-so-famous, and make an analysis of what could be. This is a great time to get our students to read and arrive at an opinion that has both content and context.

These days our students have given up reading because whatever is offered to them to read does not have any relevance or application. But in today’s times, knowledge is nothing but the application of diverse ideologies and practices that are being screamed at them from TV screens, newspapers and social media.

Students must be encouraged to forage through history and find many interpretations of events. Do our students know about Gandhi’s two letters to Hitler during World War II where he wrote “Your own writings and pronouncements and those of your friends and admirers leave no room for doubt that many of your acts are monstrous and unbecoming of human dignity, especially in the estimation of men like me who believe in universal friendliness”? His impassioned plea was “It is quite clear that you are today the one person in the world who can prevent a war which may reduce humanity to a savage state. Must you pay that price for an object however worthy it may appear to you to be? Will you listen to the appeal of one who has deliberately shunned the method of war, not without considerable success? Anyway, I anticipate your forgiveness, if I have erred in writing to you.”

Students must know that what has been claimed by many as evidence of how the British saw us Indians in Lord Macaulay’s address in the British Parliament in 1835, has highly questionable authenticity, and yet has become a staple of social media forwards. This dubious speech has even been referred to by senior Indian politicians to ignite nationalism.

Students must be guided to analyse and actually verify the genuineness of what they hear and read and make their own judgements. It is very important for teachers not to colour the thinking of the students with their beliefs but to create a platform for discussions and debates so that the students can establish their own beliefs.

First, we must begin with changing the mindset of teachers.  Have our teachers actually even read the preamble of the Constitution to understand the essential idea of India? How many times have we visited the profound statement  “We the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic and to secure to all citizens: JUSTICE — social, economic and political LIBERTY—of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship EQUALITY— of status and opportunity. And to promote among them all FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and the integrity of the NATION”.

In schools, we do not need to wait for the Social Studies class to teach our children this. These words are to be ingrained in our children through activities in Math, Kannada and the Sciences and various school assemblies right from primary school. Older children need to question whether the Constitution in true terms expresses the will of the people or has it just become a tool in the hands of some politicians? Are the people of India in real terms assured of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity? Is the common man today receiving justice? Does equality actually prevail? Is liberty available to all?

Again, teachers don’t need to teach anything but just facilitate and get the children to read, express, debate, analyse different points of view and sometimes respectfully concede to the opposing idea.

If we do not begin this exercise of independent analysis in schools, we will have a generation of youth who get swayed by the mob and forsake rational thinking. The recent Delhi riot is just the tip of the iceberg. There is an urgent need to bring sanity and decency in the national discourse.

These are interesting times and we must make it interesting learning for our children. Let them know that Gandhi told Hitler “I own no foes. My business in life has been for the past 33 years to enlist the friendship of the whole of humanity by befriending mankind, irrespective of race, religion, colour or creed.”

Our youth need to be peacemakers, not purveyors and practitioners of violence.

(The writer is Founder-CEO, Parikrma Humanity Foundation)

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