The Politics of Being Schooled

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By Yuingam Jajo
Yehudi A. Cohen strongly argued that one should not be fooled into believing that schools were founded to impart knowledge.

Tracing the origin of schools, he pointed out, it followed the birth of modern nation-states and the attendant forms of governance. Cohen contends that the imperative necessities of the modern nation-states, for instance, establishing docile, submissive and ‘patriotic’ citizens, demanded a mechanism which is outwardly non-coercive but nevertheless effective in achieving the end. Thus, the school – defined as an institution with standard curriculum taught in a standardized manner by trained professionals – came into being to meet the necessities of the modern nation-states. The school ultimately manages to create loyal citizenry – schooled subjects which ensure the stability and survival of the state. Therefore, the school become so indispensible that it is unthinkable not to be schooled in today’s society. Until one is certified by the school one remains a non–bonafide member of the society and a potential suspect in the eyes of the state. But what does it mean to be schooled? Can schools, given its history, act as catalyst in transforming the society? What does school really do?

The recent declaration of results for the High School Leaving Certificate/Board of Secondary Education, Manipur (HSLC/BSEM) and Council for Higher Secondary School Examinations, Manipur (CHSEM) and the ensuing festivity like atmosphere clearly brought home the indispensability of the schools in the society. Ranks with marks, letter marks, percentages etc. were flashed across the newspapers; messages of congratulations for the top ranking candidates occupied the headlines and sidelines in all the newspapers; photographs and words of praises abound. The mood was hysterical. So much for Class X/XII examinations results! It is not that I condone the successes of the students. Indeed they need all the encouragements and incentives to help moves forward. What is appalling is the reckless hype created over the success of the few – the top 20! What happened to the rank 21st and thereafter? Don’t their hard works and successes count? I honestly do not know the total number of students who appeared in these examinations and come out successful. But I am mighty sure it must be in terms of thousands. Given this, why only 20? Who impose the limit? Couldn’t it be top 1000 or perhaps more? Are we celebrating and encouraging success or engaging in publicity stunts for some schools and coaching institutes with ulterior motives? Is our celebration conveying a message that ‘success’ is also ‘hierarchized’ just as the larger society is? Reading between the lines it becomes very obvious that children are schooled very early into a world marked by hierarchy and thoughtless competitions. It usher them into the schooled knowledge that it is natural and scientific for the chosen minority to lord over the non-chosen majority; inequality is legitimate. It is the school that chooses and legitimizes for the benefit of the modern nation-states. In other words, the school act as the primary agent in the allocating the scarce resources of the state, especially the man-power, thereby ensuring its continuity and prosperity. It rationalizes inequity in the distribution of the state’s resources; Failure and denial is made scientific.

The issue is how does the state ensure this – that is, the school’s function of legitimizing inequality? First and foremost, essentially, the existence of school shuts off all other alternative forms of education or access to knowledge and wisdom. A close look at the nature of school will make this more obvious. For instance, strictly speaking, what counts as (legitimate) knowledge? The answer is: only those things mentioned in the prescribed school texts. Anything outside it is not knowledge or otherwise illegitimate knowledge not worthy or dangerous to know. So the local/vernacular lived knowledge not mentioned in the school text is discounted as ‘no-knowledge’ and possessors of such knowledge are penalized as ‘failures’ while the sanitized, textual knowledge of the urban elite children primarily drilled in the coaching centres after spending large amount of money as tuition fees become the legitimate knowledge and the yardstick for determining who will be in top 20 or not. Interestingly, the issue of what counts as legitimate knowledge comes attached with a particular lifestyle – text centric, sanitized (Read as obedient/loyal to the state) and preferably urban based, that is, closed to the centres of power where the ‘normalizing gaze’ (courtesy: J. Derrida) of the state can reach. And it needs to be noted that school texts are all state centric. What goes into it and in what form is the prerogative of the state. Finally, these considerations are rounded off by an examination/evaluation system which awards the highest credit/marks to those who could reproduce the text closest, as it is given in the prescribed text. Conformity is the unstated rule of the game. Deviation is a no-no. Alternative knowledge, ways of knowing or learning is illegitimate and everybody knows what the state does with such illegitimate kinds.

Thus, early on the school manages to hierarchize and put a wedge between legitimate and illegitimate knowledge, conformity and deviance and reproduction and construction. It is important to know that knowledge refers to the ‘capacity to be able to say that you know when you know something and to know that you do not know when you do not know something’; wisdom is the experience borne out of knowledge which makes one a wise person. I hope that it will be apt to insert here an educational equation that I picked up in some texts elsewhere. It goes like this: information minus formation (that is practice) equals to deformation; information plus formation equals to knowledge; and I would like to add a third equation to this: knowledge plus formation equals to wisdom. Viewed against this backdrop, the allegation that modern education has denigrated compared to the ancient times is absolutely true. And the school is squarely to be blamed for this downfall; the school succeeds in de-emphasizing and undermining ‘knowledge and wisdom’ and limits itself to mere information. Indeed it was never meant to impart knowledge in the first place. Therefore, we have more of ‘school-certified- fools’ (educated fools is a contradiction of terms) today; and there seems to be a direct relationship between the increase in the number of schools with the increase in the rate of crimes in the society today. In this so-called ‘Age of Knowledge’, there seems to be more information and less of knowledge/wisdom. We are more informed but definitely less wise. We are less capable of making wise judgments and it shows in our lifestyles, our relationship with others and the nature around us.

Following thinkers like Paulo Frierre, we need to urgently abandon the ‘banking’ type of education rooted in the present school system and move to a more ‘liberatarian’ education by connecting the ‘word with the world and the text with the context’; ‘deschool’ (courtesy: Ivan Illich) and explore alternative sites and means of knowing and learning besides the state centric school system. This way we would be able to break loose of the hold of the state thereby making the processes of schooling an enabling exercise rather than being merely a reproductive process. Otherwise, the school just like other machineries of the state like the police, army, bureaucracy etc. would remain mere ‘ideological apparatus’ of the state (courtesy: R. Dahrendorf). The domain of what is so far considered as ‘legitimate’ knowledge needs to expand – beyond the school and the text. Lived experiences and knowledge construction processes of the learners need to inform many of the learning and thinking processes in the schools rather than simply dumping alien ideas and concepts upon the learners and expecting to reproduce the same. Dialogue has to become the new pedagogy if schools are to move away from the state centric anchorage. Conflict, as in divergence of ideas, has to be promoted in the schools as the medium of understanding and solving problems. Most importantly, the role of the teachers needs an overhauling with the complete realization that they are no longer the sole repository and arbitrators of knowledge in this age. They need to shed their traditional rigidity and become more of facilitators. Finally, the school system needs to put a stop to its traditional practice of doling out pieces of fishes into the open palms of the learners and keeping them dependent but instead should take the learners out into the open sea and make them learn the art of fishing thereby making them independent. Only then schools will be able to act as the catalyst for social, economic and political transformation that is now long overdue.

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