education: frequently avoided questions – part 4

This should be titled:

Education: A taxonomy towards understanding this beast better.


Previous parts of this series on exploring education and its drivers (slightly sarcastically), mainly aimed at us clueless parents are here!

part 1:

part 2:

part 3: 

This is part 4 of the exciting (!) series. Seriously, now.

 So what do we mean when we say education? What are the daemons in our mind that immediately rev-up and fill our mindscape with some ideas – whenever someone says ‘education?’

Do we want ‘education’ at all? What kind of education do we want for our children? Are our ideas on education based on the kind of education that we had when we were young, and frankly would have preferred NOT to have had it at all in the first place?

Did we admire the ‘education’ that someone else received  (that we didn’t) when we were young – and consider that ‘education?’ 

Does a certificate from well known school/college/institute with a brand-recall circumscribe the context of ‘education’ for you? 

Does education mean that, it is a stepping stone that would enable one to aspire for some other goal or brand, such as the Indian Administrative Service – IAS? 

Does the ‘education’ that you are seeking for yourself or for your wards, is seen to be a silver bullet that will release you &/or your children from the detestable social &/or economic status that you find yourself or perceive yourself to be in? Or is there a difference between perception and your own cute reality? 

Or, in the happy situation, do we NOT have any ideas about education at all? Okay, I agree that we may not have had time to think about education – because we feel we have not had the luxury of reflecting on anything serious – between making a living and actually living? 

Fine. Ignorance was not built in a day, it is a hard-won attitude that one has to cultivate. I know, it took me ages to groom myself so that I could become eloquently ignorant and imperiously indifferent… Ha! 

Seriously now, in this next installment of this blasphemous series of rants, we would look at the common ways of stereotyping education in terms of what sociologists call, Ideal Types. 

An ideal type is formed from characteristics and elements of the given phenomena, but it is not meant to correspond to all of the characteristics of any one particular case. It is not meant to refer to perfect things, moral ideals nor to statistical averages but rather to stress certain elements common to most cases of the given phenomena.” (The methodology of the social sciences’ – Max Weber – a fine text

Simply put, the world of ideal types merely allows one to stereotype, simplify and attempt to slot things – such as white and black, so that we can easily pretend to understand things. But you see, the world is NEVER defined in terms of black and white. 

It has myriad hues – it is a true celebration of gray areas. 

One example of this ‘ideal type’ is the varna system in India (or ‘caste’ if you will, which is a Portuguese terminology from that culture, which does not even begin to describe our varna system or its subset, the jaati system). Varna ideal types constitute 4 main categories, all of which conform in one-way or the other to the canonical ideal type classification. 

If we just give it a little thought, we would be surprised to find that – we would hardly, if ever, find exact mappings of real individuals to the ideal types. But, we carry on with our lives as if the ideal types are all real – waging our own passionate and petty wars in support of or against one of these ideal types. 

Again, the stereotypes of the ideal types themselves are quite badly formed, with negative attributes lined up against a particular thing and positive ones against the other. So, we end up avoiding the gray areas – which represent the truth in its splendid glory, which is sad. 

In fact, we have always generally avoided ‘going to the sources,’ because of our splendidly cultivated ignorance and laziness – we always have borrowed opinions. Like Raama and Raavana in Raamayana – we make Raama a personification of virtues and Raavana, a truly veritable evil. But if one dares read Ramayana from one of the 100s of versions of it, he/she would realize that Raama and Raavana, are both characterized as normal folks – each with his sinful acts and acts of selfless braveries, large heartedness and petty mindedness and much else.  A celebration of gray, with past possibilities of learning, for us to strive to become better… 

Take that great epic – Mahaabharatha – that grand celebration of gray areas. Or take the case of the Bible – old as well as new testaments; all characters, including Sri Judas Iscariot and Sri Jesus Joseph – are portrayed as normal and therefore splendid people – what with very cute contradictions in the various versions/narratives of the apostles. All very human… 

Take the case of our good ol’ Buddha. He deserted his family to ‘seek’ – to make a fresh beginning and to deal with intense introspection. Very human, though sometimes I don’t understand him. (I like my Kabir better) 

They are NOT cardboard cut outs at all! Probably what makes them (Raavana, Raama, Judas, Jesus, Gautama et al) great is their constant striving to become better beings, in spite of all kinds of debilitating issues & contradictions they have had – both personal and environmental… 

But the hagiographies that followed and the need for some folks to establish an institution around the images of these persona, for their own benefit – have resulted in untenable and lifeless black and white images of the folks/characters involved.. How sad! We talk about Hell and Heaven! Angels and Evil spirits! As if all these are separate and mutually exclusive entities, ideal types – if you will…when we actually, if at all think of these, we would realize that we are both – sometimes simultaneously! We are both evil and good… 

In clear black and white pictures of anything, no searching for meaning or ‘seeking’ is possible. 

I like gray areas.  Of course, the fact that my hair is graying rather silently with the forehead rapidly increasing its domination over my pate, also does help. 

Even with respect to having opinions on a book or an issue or a film – we always borrow the opinions of others, never having the time or the attitude to look at the sources and form our own opinions.

At this juncture, I recollect reading that tome – ‘The Mass Psychology of Fascism by Wilhelm Reich – and feeling that, eventually we are probably headed in a direction wherein we will all settle down to a second rate life, if at all! 

Okay, just like the way we have ‘understood’ and randomly & selectively interpreted and continue to interpret a fascinating epic like Ramayana, we do this mindless act of stereotyping without any rhyme or reason and we have forgotten that, to understand something in an intended context, one has to go to the sources… But, these are the days when one prefers ‘notes’ and ‘question banks’ to the actual & canonical texts. So we find it easier NOT to think and simply mouth the opinions of others. 

What happens in this depressingly underwhelming process is invariably – as John Pilger would say – the ‘normalization of the unthinkable.’ The main casualty in the approach is non acceptance of  well considered or heretic points or even realistic / pragmatic points of view. May be heretic views are the correct ones or may be not. 

Note to myself: Should see Rashomon again. And of course, the lyrical Shichinin no Samurai – the Akira Kurosawa masterpieces; great concurrent accommodation and treatment of various points of view, with subtle nuances – seen through the prism of individual beliefs and deeply felt realities… 

Okay, all these thoughts and beliefs operate at the subconscious levels – making us perceive and make sense of the world in our own prejudiced and half-baked ways – and as I’m fond of saying, form the ‘metaphors we die by.’ I am very much not an exception, so caveat emptor! I like to wallow in reasonable ignorance. 

When I think about the applicability of the sociological category of ‘ideal types’ – a few examples float up immediately and I tell myself that we would bother only about ‘education’ here – and in terms of all of them being seen as forming dyads located on the opposite ‘extreme’ sides of a given phenomena: (they are not in any particular order, but I sincerely hope that, a reasonable taxonomy would develop eventually – based on the following axes for the understanding of education) 

Philosphical moorings 

  • Literacy Vs education
  • Theory of education Vs the Practice of it
  • Quality Vs Quantity
  • Form (‘certificate’) Vs content (‘education’)
  • Arts Vs Science (OR Creativity vs Concepts)
  • Big picture Vs details (OR Bird’s eye view vs Earthworm’s view)
  • Competition Vs Cooperation
  • ‘A picture is worth 1000 words’ Vs ‘Write an essay on the parliamentary system in 1000 words.’
  • Oriental Vs Occidental accents
  • Spiritual VsMaterialistic accents
  • Education as teaching: How to make a living Vs How to live 

Education theories 

  • Tagore? Steiner? Piaget? Gandhi? Goldman? Dewey? Montessori? Bruner? Aurobindo? Vygotsky? Or that bane of Indian education – Macaulay?
  • Connectivism? Cognitivism? Behaviorism? Constructivism? Contiguity? Gestalt? Experiential learning?
  • Learning theories? Andragogy? Symbol systems? Repair theory? 

there are as many theories about education as there are folks on earth! 

Behaviour modalities in education 

  • Punishment Vs non-punishment
  • Direction by the needs of the self Vs behaving as dictated by outside instructions
  • Development of self esteem Vs Addiction to rewards & mere tokens
  • Self validation Vs External validation
  • Blooming under privacy Vs Wilting under an atmosphere of surveillance 

Parental involvement 

  • Complete outsourcing of education to the ‘school’ Vs Symbiotic relationship with the ‘school’
  • Schooling vs Unschooling Vs Homeschooling … 

Practical pedagogy 

  • Medium of instruction: Mother tongue Vs Some other tongue (English)
  • Rote memorization Vs Learning with understanding
  • Physical Vs Mental activities
  • Left brain Vs Right brain
  • Exams Vs No-exams
  • Work Vs Play
  • State board Vs CBSE vs… (what a delightful variety)
  • Computers Vs NO-Computers (or a Sony PSP vs no gadgets)
  • Vocational training Vs NO-vocational orientation. 

Educational/Class Environment 

  • Democracy in classrooms Vs Autocracy
  • Open environment Vs closed environment
  • Textbooks Vs No-textbooks
  • Class/Period/subject switching every hour Vs child directed activities
  • Older children in the environment (‘mixed’ age group) Vs Children of the same age (‘narrow’ group) 

Schooling systems 

  • Montessori Vs non-montessori (OR Waldorf vs non-waldorf OR Nai Talim vs non-nai taleem OR <insert your favourite theory, including Piaget’s>)
  • Big school Vs Small school
  • Local schools Vs ‘International’ schools
  • Valley Schools (such as The Valley Schools) Vs Mountain Schools (such as a Montfort or a Lovedale)
  • Non-missionary schools Vs Missionary schools (mainly those gazillion factory schools that call themselves ‘Christian’ schools that are neither Christian nor Schools)
  • Professional teachers Vs consultants/experts
  • Government run ‘public’ schools Vs Private ones
  • ‘Mainstream’ schools Vs ‘Alternative’ schools (I think I dealt with this in the first installment
Economics of education 
  • Education as business Vs Education as service
  • Opportunities based on availability of funds Vs others available irrespective of funds 
  • Education as one giving respectability Vs one getting dowry
Politics of education 
  • Equality of opportunity Vs Equality of status
  • Education: Breadth first Vs Depth first
  • Education as providing: Models of excellence Vs Models
  • Schools providing skills for being: Sociable Vs Antisocial
  • Education as a force to: Transform the world Vs Transforming oneself
  • System beating/cracking Vs ‘following his own drummer’ Vs ‘also-ran’
  • Us Vs Them  

From the next installment, we will jointly try to address and understand where we stand and where we may want to go – with respect to the above and a few more. 

And, we may begin to understand that both polarities in most of the above (so perceived) dyadic relationships are important, if we are seriously talking about education. We may eventually find out that, in most of these so called dyadic cases, we are, in effect, traversing a Möbius strip – which apparently & on the face of it, has two sides, but actually has only one side. 

In some of the above dyadic ideas, we get more pointers to reach clarity about the others – they by themselves are not critical, but they help a lot towards understanding things that impact education or at least our understanding of it. 

We would also discuss the broader social context in which ‘education’ operates – coexisting and symbiotically working with other ‘systems’ in society. 

Of course, your mileage will vary, depending on where you are and where I am – and therefore where we are NOT. 

Please feel free to share your thoughts / anger / annoyance in the interim. The forum is open. If you are silent, you will be forced to listen to my untempered views! Caveat, caveat!


Part 5 will follow sometime later…

All parts of the series, uptil the current one are here: FAQs on ‘education’

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  • anu.mjoseph  On April 20, 2009 at 7:52 am

    I have reproduced the comment of one anu.mjoseph at calling her/himself ‘a’ – and I don’t think this person is a nammashaale parent.

    u obviously have not read the Bible. Jesus CHRIST is the Son of God who became man [sinless], carried our sins on the cross and died so we could be excused into heaven, ofcourse after long suffering and belief in Christ on earth and purgatory thereafter to purify our souls to enter the gates of heaven.

    There was also a resurrection of Jesus Christ after death which is the basis of Christianity. All others who did not believe Jesus is Lord, crucified Jesus and continue to do so.

    God Bless U.




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