Sunday, May 8, 2011

On “Value Education” in Indian schools

Value Education” in school

I matriculated at a school in Chennai. Even today I look back at some memories, some more fondly than others and it strikes me that my disbelief in a greater entity (manifested in a myriad of mutable forms) started far more previously than I had anticipated. We had a stern old teacher with pepper colored hair and a voice that sounded as though she was down with a permanent case of rhinitis. Just typing that sentence gives me the shivers as it triggers the memory of her nasal, high pitched voice that cared not in the least for paying attention to inflection. She was our “value education” teacher. Yes, we had 40 minutes classes twice or thrice a week where we lazily opened out textbooks and read about the great king “Manu”- the beacon of wisdom and the progenitor of all mankind. We read that story where the prince wanted nothing but to sit in the lap of his father, and instead God (in one of his aforementioned forms) came down to Earth, scooped up the lad and quite literally (not metaphorically as that episode of How I Met Your Mother taught us) turned him into a ball of fire and gas in the distant night sky. Equally amusing or traumatizing is the story of a little boy who believed in the concept of God' omnipresence and the fate of a rationalist who questioned and tested that hypothesis, only to have his chest ripped out; blood spraying everywhere, by a half-human, half-beast chimera. The fact that he was an evil man is almost too convenient in hushing up curious young children who wonder why being asked to prove God existence in everything needed punishment and not an honest reply.

After a few years of this, we advanced onto the Bhagavad Gita, where we were forced (I find no gentle synonym) by the curriculum, to memorize the various chapters every year. Needless to say, this tedious and by my rationale-often pointless exercise- needed constant chiding to be made by our teachers so that we followed instructions like good little sheep and didn’t ask any questions. Failure to recite the texts in the right intonation earned us an earful for not being competent enough to do so and strangely enough a hit to our second language test marks. I found the practice of holding a completely different subject ransom truly vulgar. I needed every mark I could muster to pass Tamil- and now a percentage of my “value education” marks count towards Tamil? I was literally blackmailed into learning these texts I had otherwise no intention of learning. And out of childish curiosity I read the translations of the texts I was memorizing. To my mind it appeared as nothing but megalomania by a self-established “god-head”. A God who possessed a supernatural awe-inducing form that was brighter than a thousand suns. So what is the rationale of the ancients who wrote this text to decide on a thousand? Why not a hundred thousand or a million or even a trillion? A supergiant star can be up to a million more times luminous than the sun. So is Krishna's ultimate form outshone by a supergiant?

And here’s my qualm with the subject. What exactly are young children learning by being force fed philosophies and told that by worshipping a certain god of the Bhagavad Gita that they are freed from “the cycle of life and death”? Are we seriously teaching our children in schools of rationalistic thought, that an afterlife exists and the “laws” of dharma determine what happens in the “next” life? How is this text going to help me cope with my life, my job and my personal issues? It doesn't. It just goes on to say that “believe in God and you will be saved”. That’s what all religions and faith based denominations do. You can teach this in school for two or more hours a week under a blanket term called culture or you can invest that time learning more about the diversity of life. Morals cannot be taught based on fanciful tales of no reasonable grounding. Kindness, evil, pity, empathy and the plethora of emotions that drive our existence today pre-dates all our “holy” texts. And as an atheist brought up in a liberal household, I can safely say that I don't need any religious texts to justify my moral fiber.

So please put your holy texts away and teach your children about the wonders of the world we are living in. For when we realize that this is the only life we have to live, we tend to appreciate it and savour it. The children will thank you for it.

Published online at Nirmukta- India's freethinker's website ( 9 July 2011)


Vyaas said...

As much as I agree with your view that religious context isn't needed to teach morals, and that our classes were not ethnicity neutral, of most of the other schools, ours was better. The bhagavad gita is a religious scripture no doubt, but there are some points...SOME, that really appeal to our moral instincts, which gives it that aura of righteousness. It isn't simple. When we make categorical statements about humanity, we must consider a plethora of events and instances. It is an interesting case study and worthy of a discussion in the haze of tobacco and the warmth of chilly air.

Anonymous said...

You had a bad set of experiences. Limited knowledge. Limited viepoint. True, just a dot.