(New Series No. 165, March 2002)
"40-50 years ago in Garhwal (Himalayas) children 5 year old children got together in the village on the auspicious day of Vasant Panchami. With the beating of drums and flute etc., they were taken to be registered in schools. The father who used to plow the fields had the desire that desire his son should not plow. Therefore, his son should go to school. The paraphenalia of those who returned home from jobs on the plains motivated children to go to school."
"Earlier children used to be taught that they should be truthful and honest. But now, they are told that they cannot survive this way. They must be clever. If one is to survive in this society, then 'cleverness' must also be taught as a subject."
School is amongst the holiest of cows in the present social system. Extreme patience is requested for this discussion.
Discussions on the city often get reduced to its problems and suggestions for reforms. It is rare that the discussion be focused on a critique of the city itself. The same goes for wage-work. To talk about the school and education seems to be still more difficult.
But to raise questions on the axioms of city, wage-work, factory, office, competition, army, school etc. is to raise questions on the present social system. To overcome the present social system which deterioriates living, it's a primary requirement to discuss these subjects.
A Little History
In slave-owner and slave, fuedal lord and serf, hierarchic social systems, literacy (knowledge of the alphabet) was limited and remained limited. To confine reading and writing to the priest, the Father, the Imam, language different from ordinary people's language, Latin and Sanskrit were used. Only the sons of slaveowners, princes, and priests went to schools. It is obvious that to maintain these hierarchic systems, literacy was important. But it should also be kept in mind that for the famous Magna Carta document, the King of England put his seal because he did not know how to sign. The King of England was illiterate. And Emperor Akbar used to his thumprint as a signature. He was also illiterate.
Efforts to limit literacy in the past and efforts to make everyone literate today...seems to be a knot. What is this knot? We will focus on the Indian subcontinent.
Aimless Versus With Aim
Those who have different aims than oneself, it is a tradition to call them aimless. With victory in the war at Plassey, East India Company began taking over state power in the subcontinent. By calling the existing hierarchic social system aimless and barbaric, the East India Company furthered its victory campaign.
Even today ,children have to learn, by rote, the list of reforms to transform uncivilized persons into civilized by rote the list of reforms that were done to make the uncivilized into civilized ones. Opposition of sati (wife burning herself on her husband's funeral pyre), propagation and expansion of education...Some patriotic scholars used to or do raise sharp objection to Lord Macauley's education policy for producing clerks.
But it is without debate that the East India Company laid the basis for the expansion of schools, education, literacy in the Indian subcontinent. Isn't this fact enough to loosen the knot?
Taking of 1/4th produce=loot; Taking of 90% produce= legal
Taking of one-sixth of people's produce by the king or emperor was said to be just according to the law. Those moving up to become kings used to forcibly collect 1/4 of the produce. This was called loot. Generally, in the hierarchic fuedal system, labouring people's produce would be usurpsed by 1/6th to 1/4th. Taking more than that, while maintaining the system, was not possible. In the eyes of the new advocates of civilization, limiting collection to 1/6th or 14th was aimless. To extract more out of the labouring massess,the need for a new social construct, the necessity for new hierachic social system was presented.
On looking back, we find that the role of East India Company in the Indian Subcontinent was to prepare the basis for a new hierarchic social system. East India Company played an important role in laying a lasting foundation for production of the market. Transforming the production of peasants-artisants into production for the market prepared the ground for the present social system. The basic tenet of the market system for making more extraction possible- increase trade! School-education-literacy have an extremely important role in increasing the productivity of persons and thereby promoting the exploitation of geographical and social diversity through distant trade. The propagation, expansion of school-education by East India Company, then by the British government and then by the native government must be viewed in today's context where 95 to 98% of workers' production is taken away from them. Not only 1/4th but 1/6th was also loot. Therefore, it is necessary to discuss the holiest cows of the present social system where 98% of our production is swallowed up.
The Blindfold of Holiness
How much exercise seems to be necessary merely to begin a discussion on schools! It is hoped that it will be possible to have more natural conversations about the institution in the form of schools which aims to mold children as per the requirements of the market by molding-beating-thrashing-erasing-chiselling... Hopefully, it will be easier to discuss it by loosening or opening the holy blindfold of 'making children's futures'. What kind of future? The language of the present social system is the language of events. And if we stay within this language then the mass slaughter of Gujarat is only a cracker-sparkler in comparison to the bomb blasts which seem inevitable if the present social system continues...
Children as raw material, teachers as operators, other employees as helpers, school as factory...What kind of a picture is this? We prepare our childre to sell themselves on the market...What is this? Come, let us put a question mark on school, on the present social system.