On Education…

For a lot of us, this story resonates with our own past and present. Most of us have still not been able to make peace with the little Ahmed inside us.
On Education…
Representational Pic

Ahmed desperately wakes up early in the morning to reach school on time. His mornings do not start with freshness and joy nor excitement, for a new day. It rather starts with anxiety that he has to face his school- the military parade in the morning, the tantrums of his teacher, his anxiety from class tests that never seem to end, the bullies in his class who seem to be the only people enjoying school. Ahmed begins every day with fear and with fear it ends. He wakes up with fear for the coming day and he sleeps with his heart sinking and wishing that by magic the next day never comes.

During the day he wishes the bell to ring and rush back home and throughout the week he waits for Sunday to come. Life for him is far from being perfect.

For Ahmed it is not fun to be a child. There is nothing even remotely close to say 'A child is a king', Ahmed whispers in the depth of his heart so as not to be heard by the ever disciplining and punishing surroundings, 'No I am not a king, far from it, my whole existence is embedded in fear and trauma'.

What Ahmed does not know is that his trauma is not going to end with the school days. He won't say goodbye to the scars on his soul by saying goodbye to his school.

A small child inside Ahmed will always cry and scream, wishing to be heard. Whenever a tough situation will arise, his subconscious mind will remind him of the childhood fears inflicted on him by 'Education'.

How many of us know Ahmed? This story sounds pretty known. It surely does. For a lot of us, this story resonates with our own past and present. Most of us have still not been able to make peace with the little Ahmed inside us.

Let us dare for once to ask all forms of entrenched authority and structures of power. What is education all about? Why should a child suffer psychologically under the prevalent system of schooling?

Why is absolute obedience to school authority a virtue? Why questioning a crime? How does it disturb a teacher when a student wishes to drink water in class? Why does a student require permission to even answer nature's call? Why is it necessary for us to behave in the same way, walk the same way, dress the same way, talk the same way, give exams in the same way, and have the burden of expectations put on us in the same way when God has made all of us unique?

What is the underlying rationale in praising the vegetative act of sitting in a boring class for six hours without understanding a word as discipline and terming the inclination to free play as indiscipline? After all Peter Gray (Research Professor of Psychology at Boston College) fairly points out that Children are designed by natural selection to play.

Is suppression of natural instincts and imposition of absolute reverence to authority the ultimate goals of modern education?

One of the greatest minds of contemporary history believes otherwise, Bertrand Russell states:

'Education consists in the cultivation of instincts, not their suppression'

And I believe this small and simple line sums it all. What is education other than the cultivation of human instincts? Something that unfortunately the report card does not show and the system does not take care about.

Contrary to popular belief education begins from the moment a child is born. No wonder Russell in his brilliant work 'On Education' has only one among 19 chapters on University while the rest deal with education from the time a child is born up till he enters the University.

Russell believes and rightly so that education needs to be centered around the child so as to make him grow into a better adult, to shape his personality away from the extremities of human character, What is wanted is neither submissiveness nor rebellion says Russell in his Education and Discipline.

Peter Gray shares the same thoughts, to quite an extent. In his research paper on the implications of the present day education system namely: The Decline of Play and the Rise of Psychopathology in Children and Adolescents, he argues with sufficient evidence on how the prevalent system of education has a deeply negative effect on a child's psychology. He terms free play– something that is structured by children themselves rather than by adults, as the central theme of child development and the decline in free play as the cause of rising psychopathology in children as well as adults which includes a reduced sense of personal control and increased narcissism besides other things. 

Not only this, rather in its historic context Peter Gray considers modern education as a continuation of forced labor so as to state in his A Brief History of Education that the same power methods that were used to make children work in fields and factories are transferred to the classroom.

Definitely a very harsh criticism of the present day 'education' but none the less true.

It does not mean that the schooling system should be discarded away in totality and that we return to the hunter-gatherer way of teaching children, rather it compels us to revisit some basic assumptions inside and outside the classroom, most of which are outdated at best and nonsense at worst. The prevalent forms of imparting knowledge and discipline are mostly authoritarian, abusive and disrespecting, far from being self-evident as those who impose them wish us to believe, they are mostly irrational in philosophy and unscientific in methodology.

Every child is special, every scribble of pen is valuable and every stroke of brush is worth noticing. Children are not a means to an end rather an end in itself. The class belongs to the students; the teachers, the staff, the administration is all there to help the student and not the other way round. Forcing military uniformity and punishing a child to behave in an unnatural way and forcing him to go beyond his natural capacities is no less than child abuse. What is required is a system which enhances the natural instincts of a child, gives him the liberty to grow through his mistakes, teaches him the art of self-acceptance and allows him to behave in ways he feels natural.


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