True Education - Where Schools Fall Short

Edward Everett once said, “Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army.”

What’s it that makes so many people lose patience, become intolerant, lose hope and seek the easier path, no matter how unjust it may be? It’s the lack of education. Well, as far as many of us are concerned, the word ‘education’ brings only science and algebra to the mind. But there is something more to learning that just that. There is the entire society’s value system in the hands of our educational institutions. What people are now, what they have become and what they believe in… all have their roots in the type of education those same people had received… the kind of schools they went to. So it’s not really an exaggeration to state that education can become the first step towards a whole new revolution of change.

Where did any of us get the passions for the stuff we do? More often, it’s from the things that happen at school, because that’s where all kids spend about one-fourth of their lives [we’re not taking into account the truants and the shirkers, of course]. More than math or literature, what one really learns at school is the skill of living. The kid learns to get along, to respect, to be tolerant, to work hard, to face failures & triumphs, to understand life, to value friendship and much more… These are small things which we learn along with all the complicated intellectual lessons from the text book, that most of our teachers were so keen to see us imbibe. But even when we forget the formulas and equations, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll forget those tiny lessons we learnt as we grew up.

But there are things one can learn from text books too…

When I was in 10th standard, we had a play – ‘The Winslow Boy’ for our English lessons. It was one of Terence Rattigan’s and I was so captivated by it that I would read it aloud, mimicking my voice to suit the characters [I pity my neighbors] and drowning myself in the book for hours at a stretch. So much enthralled was I that I never got tired of reading it 2 or 3 times while preparing for exams. What was so wonderful about it? The character of Kate, Arthur and Sir Robert, who all fight the same case but for three different reasons. Kate was a young suffragette who wanted to set the Government machinery right. Arthur was a simple not-so affluent father who wanted justice for his son. Sir Robert who would sacrifice anything to make sure that right is done. It’s a play that talks about how no sacrifice is too much when it comes to injustice, how no cause is hopeless and how no wrong too trivial to be ignored.

Then there were the history classes. We learnt about the Indian Freedom Struggle... About how a nation had brought about its own demise and how one man fought for freedom from everything - from the shackles of poverty to the powerful British Raj, without raising a weapon… even in defense. We learnt how India could have become free in 1850, but didn’t… how India could have been peacefully secular, but wasn’t… how everyone could have had the nation’s interests before their own, but didn’t… It was a book where every page gave me a jolt in the stomach and an ache in the heart. That was when I discovered the real enemy – Ourselves.

Simple lessons can create an entire history, and it’s a pity few realize it. There’s no use of schools teaching only science and math. We don’t need schools for that; books will be more than sufficient. We need schools which will equip all kids with a dream, a vision and a will to change themselves and others… We need schools that empower an individual and show him the difference between tolerance and indifference, between ignorance and innocence and between justice and right. It’s astonishing when you sit back and think of the way some schools are functioning right now. A child is ‘brilliant’ if he is able to memorize whole poems and one who is skilled in art is an idler! Marks rule in so schools and all the loads of homework the teachers dump are only for ‘writing practice’… There is no wonder as to why kids start hating education when they grow up to become young adults.

An ideal school must be one where creativity, freedom of thought and intelligence are given more credit, a place where a child can go without the fear of pain [without corporal punishments] and a place where any dream is given adequate appreciation. Schools must teach the social rules, values and why they are so important. It’s time schools started producing aware, enlightened citizens and not scholarly fools. We have got enough of the latter already, thank you very much.

As William Butler Yeats says,
“Education is not filling a pail but the lighting of a fire.”

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