Modern education often reminds me of what Noam Chomsky says, 'It is not important what we cover in the class, it is important what you discover'.
In our times, when we are just a click away from anything we wish to know, education and knowledge in itself have taken a different meaning. While the good thing is that all information is available, the problem is precisely the same, we have everything available. Things are thought for us and what is often presented as genuine knowledge is merely an act of disinformation.
Politics is arguably the best case study in this, wherein we can find anything and everything by which we wish to strengthen our narrative, no matter how absurd it is. To quote Stephen Hawkings, 'The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge'.
When we have people from all walks of life, from a huge spectrum of political thought expressing their political opinions, from the pulpit, through print media, electronic media, social networking and so on, it becomes quite a tough job to take what is factually correct and leave the rest.
This is precisely where political education becomes an obligation. You may not have an opinion about neuroscience or you might not be interested in nanotechnology, but politics is something where even not having an opinion is an opinion in itself. In the words of a famous political theorist from Yale – Robert A. Dahl – When you are not making a decision, you are allowing someone else to make it on your behalf.
When we say we are apolitical, we are basically supporting the status quo, even without realizing it. Henceforth comes the obligation of having political opinions and to express them, the quality of which flows from our political education, which makes us differentiate between fact and fiction.
Coming from a part of the world where conspiracy theories sell like hot cakes, where even a normal vaccination might be considered a 'Jewish conspiracy', it makes imparting political awareness even more important.
Where the political and social culture is one of authority more than reason, where power structures shape opinions and 'knowledge', wherein these structures of authority from patriarchy to the highest levels of state consider 'manufacturing consent' as their prime duty, deciphering reality becomes an art.
Take the example of the 1971 war between India and Pakistan. If you had a look at the newspapers of East Pakistan, controlled by the state, you would have been pretty sure that within no time Pakistan army was going to overcome India, but the ground realities, as we know of now were drastically different. Or the North Korean state which tries to make her people believe that they can survive a nuclear war with the United States and even come out victorious.
Besides, we prefer to see things in binary, either you are on absolute truth or the devil himself, here also political awareness must inject mild doses of realism so that we are able to see the numerous grey areas that lie in between the black and white phenomenon.
Take the contemporary example of the Syrian war, you will see diametrically opposite opinions among people regarding who is right and who is wrong. For one, the Assad government and her allies are the axis of resistance, defending their country from terrorists launched and funded by US, UK, France and of course Israel. For others, it is the brutal Assad regime supported by her allies which is killing its own people with barrel, bombs and chemical weapons.
This divergence in opinion is not only limited to common people but also exits in the media, just switch to Al Jazeera and then to Press TV, what they report on the same issue is so different that it seems they are reporting from different planets; and the reason is no mystery, just get to know who owns these channels.
While saying this by no means I wish to negate the politics of resistance wherein you fight unjustified authority, which comes in many shades and colors. But again to be in a proper position to stand for justice what is required is to educate ourselves and others on justice. What happens otherwise is a medicine more dangerous than the disease which is an oft-repeated scenario in our part of the globe.
What I am trying to convey is that being from a part of the world where politics is intertwined with the lives of people, where a mere political opinion can be a death sentence, and adding to misery, the sources of political information have themselves become party to the dispute, in such a scenario, a proper political education becomes an utmost necessity, even more important than teaching algorithm or evolution.
Now coming to a way out; if we have a look at the books that students are taught in our schools as part of their political education we find the books to be pretty good. Teachers that I found asking for a change in the syllabus are pretty much hiding their own shortcomings. French revolution remains French revolution even in 2018. The problem does not lie with the syllabus but with the way it is being taught. Even in the best of our educational institutions, politics (in the broad sense) is memorized rather than discussed. It should not matter whether you remember the precise date when World War 2 ended, what matters is that you are able to know the causes, why it happened and how we can stop such horrors in future. What is important is that we learn from history and not that we learn history.
Last but certainly not the least, a huge responsibility lies on our political thinkers, people who understand politics – local, national as well as global, to educate people. Let us not create a vacuum which is filled by people with an extremely biased outlook towards the world, by people for whom violence is bread and butter.
Conclusion: It is of utmost importance to impart quality education in political science to our youth so that they contribute towards a better world. Our schools, colleges and most of all our thinkers need to come forward to take this responsibility so that we leave a more peaceful world than what we inherited.
Shafakat Hassan Mirza has done his masters in Kashmir and South Asia Studies from Kashmir University and Jamia Millia.