For children, the course books are like the gospel truth. The words printed in the textbooks are infallible. They are the basis of knowledge that the education system thinks a child should possess. Ideally, this knowledge should help a person in becoming objective and rational.
While teaching English to children, and I am talking about 7th,8th,9th and 10th standard, I come across so many texts, so many chapters and so many intentions that are far away from the objectives of education that this country believes in.
Adolescent age is the most impressionable. Children are in constant search of understanding the world, looking for answers and forming concepts. Education ideally, should help and support a child on this journey.
Recently, while teaching children a chapter from class X English book of Rajasthan board, I had to pause, think and stop in between the chapter to start a discussion on beliefs, the concepts of good and evil, how to differentiate between the author’s view and their own and how not to consider what is being taught as the ultimate pristine truth; for nothing is beyond discussion and doubt.
From the chapter titled- “A Discourse on Prayer”, which is an extract from M.K Gandhi’s lecture which he delivered to children at Sabarmati Ashram:
“There are some who in the egotism of their reason declare that they have nothing to do with religion. But it is like a man saying that he breathes but that he has no nose… the rankest of agnostic or atheist does acknowledge the need for a moral principle, and associates something good with its observance and something bad with its non-observance.”
The amount of failed logic in this small text is staggering. The assumption that not believing in religion is a sign of superciliousness is I think in fact a sign of egotism from the author’s side. The biggest flaw here is the assumption that the concepts of good and bad or moral principles are not independent of religion. This denies these concepts, the purity with which they exist and bring them down to a shallow level and dependent on something other than the beautifully manifested ideas that they are.
“…. prayer is the very core of man’s life as it is the most vital part of religion.”
The chapter from there goes to the next step since it has supposedly established the importance and existence of religion and also dismissed a life lived otherwise.
“There is an external struggle raging in man’s breast between the powers of darkness and light, and he, who has not the sheet anchor of prayer to rely upon, will be a victim to the powers of darkness… the man who goes about the affairs of the world, without a prayerful heart, will be miserable and will make the world also miserable”
All this coming from who we call the ‘Father of the Nation’, someone who believed in freedom of thought, choices and respecting each other, is somewhat surprising.
“You whose mission in life is service of your fellow men will go to pieces if you do not impose on yourselves some sort of discipline and prayer is a necessary spiritual discipline. It is discipline and restraints that separate us from the brute.”
Again, believing concepts like discipline and self-restraint can exist only in the shadows of religion is an erroneous assumption. It is like shutting a bunch of perfectly beautiful flowers in a box for fear of getting them exposed to fresh air and environment where they might wilt. To introduce the children to a concept is exposing them to different schools of thoughts. To dismiss other schools of thought and teaching a specific one as the ultimate truth is teaching children to be averse to logic and reason.
These texts had been spoken at a religious gathering, imparting religious codes to people who wanted to listen to a specific line of thought. I am questioning these texts because these are being taught to our children with the intention of’ ‘educating’ them and making them informed, rational individuals.
This is one such chapter from one book of one class. I would be writing more highlighting more texts that take away the education from the education system.