Capturing curriculum to sculpt young minds - Hindustan Times
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Capturing curriculum to sculpt young minds

Jun 19, 2024 02:20 AM IST

All schools are passionate about shaping young minds. Popular ideas and ideologies actively use schools to intellectually sculpt young minds

Sudhir Kakar, who passed away in April, and his teacher, Erik Erikson, spent their lives studying identity — its cultural moorings and public implications. Sudhir Kakar’s early major work, The Inner World, was a study of mother-son relations in Hindu society during infancy. It showed us the depths that hide and hold some of our strongest urges. His later works consolidated the idea that culturally upheld goals and norms arise from the common search for identity. Kakar’s mentor, Erikson, had interpreted identity to mean a self-image that offers a consoling continuity in an ever-changing world.

Mumbai, India - June 15, 2024: Children enjoy on the first day of school at Madhavrao Bhagvat High School, Vile Parle in Mumbai, India, on Saturday, June 15, 2024. (Photo by Satish Bate/ Hindustan Times) (Hindustan Times) PREMIUM
Mumbai, India - June 15, 2024: Children enjoy on the first day of school at Madhavrao Bhagvat High School, Vile Parle in Mumbai, India, on Saturday, June 15, 2024. (Photo by Satish Bate/ Hindustan Times) (Hindustan Times)

Among the basic features of the social world that surrounds us as individuals is an authority figure — someone capable of keeping things in order by resolving conflicts. Kakar discovered that authority figures shape relations in the family, schools and workplaces. His ideas have implications for education, but they are complex and quite often paradoxical. Both he and Erikson were psychoanalysts with considerable interest in making sense of politics. In two completely different settings, i.e. India and the United States (US), they brought about systemic clarity — among teachers, their trainers and concerned parents -- about adolescence. The turmoil we all face during adolescence is about identity and belonging. If the struggle to locate a sense of one’s real self is sorted out, post-adolescence life acquires a sense of purpose. All one’s energies get focused on it. The struggle to find one’s self is tough because external forces do all they can to influence the young mind, often in directions that later prove false and unsatisfying.

All schools are passionate about shaping young minds. Popular ideas — including the ones marketed by vested interests — and ideologies actively use schools to intellectually sculpt young minds. Catch them early, goes the adage, promising perpetuation of a chosen ideal. Education sounds like a nice and normal social activity, but it is remarkably vulnerable to political influence. In every phase of history, but especially in our times, the State uses its authority to control and design the architecture of young minds. Schools serve as venues for this exercise, and teachers as labourers. They use tools like the curriculum and textbooks to achieve what the State wants. Some real learning does take place in the process, but it is more often tainted by the distant goals of the State than by the aims of education.

The latest example of a mighty State using education to ensure ideological indoctrination of the young comes from China. Its residential schools for Tibetan children are run for a familiar purpose. History offers us numerous examples of the temptation to separate children from their families in the hope that cultural continuity can be disrupted. China has had problems with the Tibetans, especially with the Dalai Lama’s influence on them, both inside Tibet and elsewhere. No pejorative has been spared to malign him, but his stature as a leader has not suffered. He has used his spiritual leadership to compensate for his people’s sense of loss and dejection. The possibility of weaning the young generation of Tibetans away from the Dalai Lama’s benign influence is what China wants to pursue. It wants to integrate young Tibetans into a monolithic national ideal. For this purpose, China is emulating many historical and present-day experiments.

The greatest experiment was colonial education across the southern hemisphere. Its outcomes were paradoxical and diverse: No single frame can help us grasp its long-term effects. Then, there are more focused experiments carried out among the marginalised, native communities of the US, Canada and Australia. The recent findings brought to light in Canada show the suppression of the natives, their language and their rights. The instrument was the model of residential schools, where native children were kept in total isolation from their families. Less dramatic instances can be found in our own country, in the residential schools run for tribal communities. Little deep research has been done on such schools. The types of acculturation they aim at differ, but they reflect a consensus that tribal identity is not consistent with middle-class normalcy. It is not easy for scholars to enter and observe what goes on in certain residential schools for tribal children, including the more efficient — and arguably effective — ones in parts of the Northeast, Odisha and Chhattisgarh.

The case of China’s residential schools in Tibet presents a vaster and far more efficient use of education for political ends. We normally think of education as a liberating force. The fact is that it can also be used to capture the mind — at an age when it is highly impressionable. Marginalised communities and minority groups are the usual targets of ideologically inspired education, but institutions and nations representing religious majorities also target children and adolescents. Israel is a prime example of such a pursuit. Religious revivalism finds an echo in numerous educational ventures across the world. Two decades ago, a committee chaired by eminent political scientists Gopal Guru and Zoya Hasan had given ample instances of indoctrination in the textual material used in schools run by radical Hindu and Muslim groups.

In the case of residential schools in Tibet, we don’t know what kind of textual material is mandated by the Chinese authorities. Separating children from their parents has obvious implications for language. Indeed, the child’s home language is usually the first casualty in any residential set-up that aims to re-socialise. The trouble is that a State like China simply denies any wrongdoing. Perhaps the authorities there don’t appreciate the lesson that history teaches about education – that it doesn’t always work. Aims imposed on it sometimes clash with the aims that knowledge – and learning, even under adverse conditions — kindle in the cavernous human mind. Sudhir Kakar’s books will remind us for a long time that the workings of the mind are not fully tractable.

Krishna Kumar is a former director of NCERT and the author of the forthcoming volume, Thank You, Gandhi. The views expressed are personal

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