There was a village in a remote hilly area. The place was away from the city hustle. The people in the village cultivated their own food, and had their own language, culture and traditions; they worshiped the mountains and the lakes as Gods, and their cultural practices helped them fight the extreme cold. People respected each other, lived in harmony, and the place looked beautiful and serene.
Now, there was one problem. The people in the area were not “educated”, formal schooling had not penetrated. There was hardly anyone who could speak English. The government of the country realized that the education level in the state is poor; thus, considering education as a basic need, a school was set up (some NGOs also took the initiative).
Children were compulsorily put in schools and made to speak in a language which they or their parents had no idea about. Their myths were destroyed through the rationale of science. Children started considering their culture as inferior and superstitious. They could not relate to their parents or the locals.
They were told that mountains or lakes are not gods. School students didn’t care about those mountains anymore. There was a systematic destruction of their beliefs and the place. Slowly, mountains and lakes were filled with filth. Construction work was being done in the area. Needless to say, the place was ruined, totally and emphatically.
The story has been adapted from the TEDx talk: Dreams from endangered cultures by Wade Davis, ethnobotanist, Harvard PhD. As he says, “A young kid from the Andes who’s raised to believe that mountain is an Apu spirit that will direct his or her destiny will be a profoundly different human being and have a different relationship to that resource or that place than a young kid from Montana raised to believe that a mountain is a pile of rock ready to be mined.”
Now, one can argue that indeed mountains are not gods, and one should be free from the “superstition”. But are we looking at the ecological footprint of these cultural practices? What did we gain by breaking myths and beliefs? What impact does the lost belief have on the environment?
I am not trying to argue that education is not necessary, or that beliefs should not be contested. Instead, I am trying to question: what kind of education we want to give to our kids assuming it’s indeed needed? Can a standard NCERT curriculum in Delhi cater to children from all parts of the country? When we break a superstition (read cultural practice), what does our education do for the ecological footprint? Our rational scientific approach may not always be beneficial in all respects.
Let’s extend this further with another example. When we teach photosynthesis to students; they come to know how plants take in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen, great, isn’t it? But does it ensure that students understand the importance of planting trees? One could top a science exam explaining the intricate details of photosynthesis including the role of chlorophyll, but what’s the point when the same student comes out of the exam and destroy a plant planted just outside the exam hall? I once saw the topper of my class kick a dog sitting quietly outside the school for no apparent reason. Why? How do our 12 years of education help us empathize with all, including animals? Do we need to go back to consecrating and worshipping plants and animals in order to save them?
I surmise it’s important that we critically look at our educational practices. Just assessing kids on written exams doesn’t help them, let alone the planet. Let’s again ask the questions: What does inclusive education mean for us? How does education contribute to sustainability? Identify the gaps between the education we want, the education we get and the education we understand. In the end, I want to leave you with one of Einstein’s quote:
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.”