Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Right to a Choice

As a kid you go to school. The school is attached to The Board of Education.It comes under the state government which also has links to the central government. So basically your school is tied to the government and it's Education Department. The education board sets the syllabus and all schools are bound to that syllabus.

Without going too far on this, let me come to my point. As a kid i was expected to write an essay on the Father of the Nation- Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Now as a kid i had no choice but to do the following:

1] I was expected to call MK Gandhi as Mahatma and as a Father of the Nation
2] I was expected to write only good things about him
3] I was not expected to deviate from conventional thoughts

If i did all the above my teacher would give me good marks. But if lets say i wouldn't call MK Gandhi a Mahatma but as Mr. Gandhi, i probably would have failed my Essay test. Tied to the government you see!

Now essay is a subjective entity by itself. Meaning it is not Arithmetic. Nor Science really. An essay is actually a great idea to let a person ooze out his or her creative juices. Essay's if bound by rules and boundaries loose their essence.

Nevertheless all students of the class were expected to parrot the same lines given to them by teacher. "Gandhi was a great man... Gandhi used non-violence...Gandhi did so and so..."

Basically every one of 60 or so students would write the exact same (or more or less same) lines and score marks. Marks were probably cut on bad writing or for missing out lines "given" by the teacher before the exam. Not for the "content" of the essay actually

I have heard that American school system works a little different. In a sense, parroting or mugging (as it's called in India) is discouraged and the kid is allowed to "venture out in the creative jungle". If that is the case it's definitely good. Here's why - as a kid my ability to question conventional wisdom was suffocated. Maths and Science is a little different. They are not abstract and relative / subjective (unless in a very advanced mode); on the other hand History deals with personalities and personalities have variations and cannot be boxed into stereotypes and boundaries.

As far as Gandhi is concerned, my real teacher on this subject was my grandmother. At age 9 she told me a few things about Gandhi that none of my school teachers or school books taught. It was an enlightening discussion. She told me about his mistakes, his soft pedaling with fundamentalists of his times etc.

But she did not tell me all this in a negative sense. All she said was - "remember Gandhi had another side too". I thought that was genius. To tell a kid, not to follow conventional wisdom blindly but seek your own judgment as you grow; that is cool. In that sense my Granny became a great teacher for me that particular day.

She taught me a lesson, not for a particular semester;but for Life.

No comments: