NO PAPER VESSEL ADRIFT AT SEA
The neglect by parents of their role in the education of their children, for whose benefit they are eager and willing to move heaven and earth is one of the key conundrums in education today. This needs to change; hence the following discursive discussion.
The most basic thing to realise in this regard is that education is an undertaking shaped within a context. Contexts change. But the core of our humanity, unlike its superstructure, does not change. It is because of this that a tension develops in education between how education is practised from time to time and what it was originally envisaged to be. This reality puts the spotlight on the importance of the role that parents play.
Parents too, you could argue, are the products of their times. But they don’t have to be. The purpose of true religion, or spirituality, is to help them to stay rooted in the basics that our species should never abandon in the course of its journey through history. Education, to be truly itself, must stay steadfast on this irreducible foundation.
Systems, unlike parents, are invariably caught in the flux of time. Parents have far greater control over their domestic milieu than institutions have over what they are regulated into being. A home is not regulated by external agencies. It is another matter that we allow it to be for want of understanding and vigilance. Schools and colleges too are presumed to be autonomous. They rarely are. They have to conform to norms and aims that are prescribed for them. What most parents don’t realise is that these aims and norms are not innocent prescriptions; in fact, they are loaded with the vested interests of the powers that be that are invariably ‘pragmatic’ and ‘reductive’. They do not coincide with what is, in the long run, conducive to human welfare.
To assume, therefore, that one’s educational responsibilities towards one’s children are amply discharged by getting them admitted to the ‘best’ schools and colleges around — which today means, in most instances, the most expensive ones — is to be quaintly naïve. Human beings are, besides all that the world assumes about them, also irreducibly spiritual beings. The evolution of the soul is a spiritual process and can be fostered only by spiritually equipped agencies. From such a point of view, human beings, not systems and institutions, are the true educators.
Every system of education is based on a theory, which is derived from views concerning what the human species is. Else, we would not have embraced, say, secular education; whereas education had been deemed, for centuries, quintessentially spiritual.
The first duty of parents towards their children is to wonder: what is the purpose and destiny of this new life entrusted to me? Has this life a scope beyond the material processes of the world, a destiny beyond the grave? How else would we know to nurture our children holistically? A child cannot be nurtured in the way that an elephant is tamed or a dog is domesticated. Everything that we do is shaped and directed by our idea of what it means to be human and what it takes to excel in the most fundamental of all arts: the art of living.
A system of education stands rooted in the prevailing philosophy of life embracing the existence or non-existence of God, the nature of human beings, and of nature itself. To illustrate this, let us consider briefly a couple of models.
The religion of the Greeks was a sort of nature-worship. To them, the present life alone was real and, as such, all that mattered was that it had to be joyous and enjoyable. This made the State supreme. Man’s first and foremost duty was to his country. The Greek idea and practice of education was shaped by this view of life. It sought to promote patriotism and a martial approach to life. The Romans too laid emphasis on military training. This was dictated by the need to maintain the supremacy of Rome over the sprawling and unstable empire. The religious sentiment was made subservient to the patriotic spirit. My readers would recognise that we are today gravitating towards this ‘militarist’ outlook. It has become impious to doubt or debate anything pertaining to the armed forces. It is a significant pointer to where we are headed.
Neither the Greeks nor the Romans cared much for promoting ‘character formation’ through education in the sense in which we understand it today. These cultures lacked a supervening consciousness of God’s presence. They had no notion of personal holiness. This caused the love of beauty, for example, to degenerate into sensuality, which did not provoke moral censure. We see the same trend today among our social and economic elites but fail to understand its underlying logic. The socio-economic elites are, by and large, condescending in their attitude to ethical demands. Any measure adopted by educational institutions that cater to their children in this regard will be resented and decried. To people of this bracket, ‘character’ and ‘discipline’ are an irksome baggage. The rest of the society imitates this class prejudice in sheer incomprehension.
Judaism took a different view of man and consequently formed a different idea of education. God, the Sovereign Creator of all things, wholly free from the control of nature and fate, is the pivot of Hebraism. God insists on justice and hates inequity. The interpersonal and social spaces are, therefore, bound by ethical imperatives. Loving oneself needs to be in harmony with loving one’s neighbour. The value of the soul being supreme, the State cannot have absolute claims on the individual. Education, in such a context, is necessarily a spiritual and humane undertaking. Who a student is (and becomes) is far more important than how much he knows or what trophies he wins.
Further illustrations can be provided to buttress this argument. But what we have examined, howsoever cursorily, should suffice to alert us to the fact that the education of our children provided by the system in vogue would be necessarily shaped and limited by the interests and outlook of the dominant class.
The products of such a system of education are envisaged to be no more than skillful manipulators of opportunities and maximisers of personal benefits. What legitimises this idea and practice of education is the assumption that man is no more than a self-seeking, comfort-and-pleasure-consuming animal, whose happiness rests wholly on the acquisition of material wealth and the access to the manifold advantages it affords. Not surprisingly, therefore, it is indifferent to values education.
It is of extreme importance for parents to be clear-minded in this regard to know how crucial is the role they can play in ensuring that the education of their children is sane and holistic. They will see themselves as partners with the school in promoting the wholesome development of their children.
Limitations of space will not allow me to treat this theme with the elaboration it deserves. One of the byproducts of atheism and agnosticism is the spirit of ridicule that is rampant today. Parents with such a belittling disposition infect their children with it. Ridicule is the polar opposite of reverence, which is the catalyst for learning. A mocker is a poor learner. He revels in fault-finding, but never makes a keen and eager learner. A mocker is blind to the value of everything. The outlook of reverence, on the other hand, makes a young person open and absorbent. It is highly desirable, for this reason, that learning is embraced as a sacred process. Teaching is a ‘vocation’ not a profession. Vocation means a calling. It is God who calls. Teachers are called by God to build lives. So are parents, even more fundamentally.
Most parents, alas, conform unthinkingly to the notions and fashions that prevail from time to time. They fail to reckon the toll this takes on the sanity and scope of even their domestic lives. They stay blind to its damage spread over generations.
If what I have argued above is valid, it is amply clear that parenting becomes all the more crucial even as social and cultural changes take a society further along the road of materialism, consumerism, and agnosticism. It is indeed so for those parents who dare to believe that their children are more than mere paper vessels adrift on the sea of time and have a destiny that endures into eternity. For them, nothing is more important than the duty to bring about the goodness, greatness, and uniqueness of the lives entrusted to them in their magnificent fullness. A fully developed human being is the richest thing in the world. It is a miracle; the only authentic one, in the end.