New Delhi: Times have surely changed for the better for the zillions of young, who have to go to school these days. Allegedly overstressed school going kids of even more deeply distressed parents who have yet to recover from the consequences of two irreversible mistakes of their once upon a time happy lives – marriage and having children – in that order, because a change in the sequence can upset our anachronistic society, are advocating a punishment free, examination free, study-as -and-when-you-please environment in the temples of learning.
Raj Liberhan, Director, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi
The emerging dilemna is whether it is legitimate for the teacher and the school authorities to “punish” the pack of wolves in children’s clothing with a couple of lashes from the best of Malacca cane or a few sharp slaps behind the ear to knock some sense into their devilish minds or to remind them severely that homework is meant to be done and being civil in their conduct is not being anti-national or compliance with the rules of the school is not being a ‘wimp’.
Counselling is the panacea, we are told, given in appropriate doses to correct deviant behaviour amongst the tiny tots and not punishment, and definitely not the corporeal kind. Instead, the teachers are at the receiving end.
All kinds of social organizations, parents associations and socio - psychologists have gotten together to condemn the teachers who have under extreme provocation resorted to firmly disciplining their temporary wards. Some misguided knowledge-dispensers have, ofcourse, tripped over the decent, moderate minimum deterrent, perhaps in their zeal for urgent results, but does that give us the right or authority to demand a ban on the teachers’ right to correct and in some cases correct sharply is what we need to question.
These sundry well wishers and advocates of school reform have taken up the cause of the infantile populace on the specious plea that use of coercion, and even exams are deemed coercive. This can range from anything like a raised voice to a physical strike and go as far as deducing that this can permanently impair the psyche of budding Newton’s, Einstein’s, Gallilleo’s, Jane Austen’s or even a George Bush and drive them to become maladjusted citizens of our otherwise civil society. Intention to include George Bush in the otherwise perfectly agreeable company is only to indicate the lowest denominator of acceptability!
To come back to the main point, the targetting of the school teaching community by brigades comprising sociologists, psychologists, and other advocates of education reforms to treat all infractions of discipline with kid gloves is also an overkill.
The reformists started with the campaign for lightening the burden of the school going kids. The weight of a school bag is stated to be so onerous as to lead to unbearable pressure on the backbone as per what we believe is authentic medical opinion. Little wonder that backbones disappear by the time we graduate to wage earning stage.
Asking a perennial dodger of homework, to stand in the corner of his classroom is deemed humiliating, resulting in lowering the culprit’s self esteem. Expulsion from school for igniting a harmless cracker under the teacher’s chair is taken as a gross overreaction and leads to a petition against the school authorities.
Yet, another plank of coercion is the examination system. Exams need to be done away with. All that they do is stress out the fragile nerves of young minds and make them fearful of failure or at the very least cause anxiety about performance. This is unadulterated coercion by the teachers in any case. So we are constantly reminded.
If we have to have exams, why do we have to evaluate and award marks? Just grade them so that there is no occasion for unhealthy rivalries, nobody comes first, nobody comes last and we can pave the way for an egalitarian society!
In a letter, which Lincoln never wrote to his teacher’s son, but the contents of which have been on the electronic circuit,he makes a plea to the teacher requesting him to “treat him gently, but not cuddle him because only the test of fire can make fine steel”. Remarkable words from a remarkable man.
The fundamental fact of life is that if there is to be a regimen, then to ensure compliance there has to be a coercive instrument. If schools have to have discipline, the teachers must have the ability to ensure its existence. A free society does not emerge because everybody has the right to do as he pleases. Rather it remains free because everybody respects a regimen and your right to swing your arm stops where the other person’s nose begins.
The right place to learn this fundamental lesson is the school. Actually, come to think of it, a lot depends on what we expect our schools and teachers to produce. Boys and girls who competed against each other to emerge as the best debater, or the best footballer, or the best in athletics or best in academics can only happen if the school creates that spirit of fair competitiveness.
Underlying this atmosphere has to be a system and a compliance overseen by the teaching community. Sure we can do away with healthy competition, abolish exams, ban the teachers from using an occasional cane and we will get intolerant citizens with scant regard for fellow humans and even less for the law. These will be more of the kind who would think nothing of putting a bullet through somebody’s head for being refused a drink or the right of way. After all, learning civics begins in school.
Raj Liberhan is Director of the India Habitat Centre at New Delhi. Send your reactions to firstname.lastname@example.org