Why we need idealist schools/experimental schools?
Just now I was going through an old review article, written by A.J.Ayer, the reputed Oxford philosopher in an old issue of the Encounter, and then edited by the poet Stephen Spender. I was an old-time admirer of Spender in those times and also an ardent reader of the magazine when it was sold in India. At an unbelievable Rs.one!
Now, this review article is about the life of John Stuart Mill, another of my favourite thinker.
Now, the biography of Mill also brings into focus, in the deft hands of such a refined mind like Ayer, the others, Jeremy Bentham, the originator of the theory of Utilitarianism and also the senior James Mill. As Ayer notes the senior Mill also was a writer and a servant in the then East India Company office in London and he also wrote a history of India, not a good book from the point of view of Indians, no and also then.
In an unrelated note I like to say that recently that Amartya Sen produced a book titled as “Argumentative Indian” and this heading gives a very misleading impression about the contents of the book.
First, it is not a good example, as Sen does, to give the example of Emperor Akbar as a case of one who ushered into India a tradition of argument. Akbar of course started to establish a new radical religion incorporating Islamic and Christian thought.
But then Indians would like seek any dominant tradition of argument from the Hindu scriptures like Bhagavad Gita or Uapanishads or from any of the six systems of philosophy.
So, the point is the the tradition of argument, the case for reason vs. faith etc in India seems very far-fetched and weak a tradition.
Now, Ayer, the said in the article (Encounter 1954) John Stuart Mill was a rationalist, a man of reason and as such was a cold person or personality lacking in human warmth.
In a brief space, Ayer says so much. Jeremy Bentham, the originator of the English Utilitarianism, put the pleasure principle as the goal of man and yet, says Ayer, Bentham’s writings have a certain intellectual playfulness. He was colourless and his conviction came from his intellectual arguments, rather than from warmth of feeling. So, the very same observations apply to the Mills, father and son.
J.S.Mill was called the “saint of rationalism”, he has many disciples but not friends! Another devastating criticism!
Ayer quotes Disraeli, another of my favourite personality, as a politician, said famously when J.S.Mill appeared the House of Commons: “Ah, I see the finishing Governess”. This is not a compliment but it was what mill was like. Intellectually a finished thinker, he wrote some of the memorable books that remain classics today and they are continued to be read and yet, as a public figure, Mill had become remote, weak and unsure of the real world affairs!
As I was reading through this piece my mind wandered far and wide and so I came to Sen and then to India and right here to the Indian schools and the schooling system and its principles, if any.
I find today the new and the old middle class, the old earned less but was more deeply committed to certain beliefs and the new class earns more, audaciously, the young earn more and yet the young lack so much in terms of mental fulfillment. See the rise in divorce cases and the breakup of families at such an early stage in life (Kerala tops in both divorces and suicides, what a pity!).
The new middle class youth seems to me very talented, very good in analysis and argument and yet they all seem to be uniformly lacking in human watch, the warmth of feeling.
Feeling, Rousseua said, is everything?
Feeling, tenderness and yet moral convictions and moral courage are all the stuff of any value system. Do we cultivate feelings? Do we cultivate any values? What are our values? Our value system? Who asks these questions?
My feeling is that it is the system of our education that must be asking these questions.
Any nation, any people with a great history would have to have a well-defined and well-articulated education system.
Just before Macaulay came there was already the debate about the desirability of an English education system for India. Raja Rammohan Roy articulated, among others this point of view. At that point of time, just some decade before Macaulay arrived there was a flourishing traditional Gurukulam based Sanskrit education, pathasalas, the biggest concentration was in Benares, and there were such great pathasalas in Bengal, in South in Kanchipuram and in all major centres of pilgrimage and other religious centres.
But once the English schools were introduced there was a radical change for the good. Or for the bad, as some of the hard-headed zealots even now seem to argue!
The Hindutva model of education is misconceived.
Even the other religious foundations like Ramakrishna schools have to do some introspection.
What Swami Vivekananda wanted needs some new articulation? See the latest books on the Swami by Prof.Tapan Roychoudhari and Amiya Bose and others.
My point here is that like the British Public schools we need some modern secondary education where India, the new India of a world superpower needs to be articulated in a more responsible way.
Modernism combined with traditional values, plus some new mix of new and old languages, culture, music and arts and other character-building education methods must be debated.
It is for this purpose, we need some new idealistic schools, independent schools and experimental schools under dedicated education thinkers and educators need to be encouraged.
All who tried new education ideals and methods faced challenges, they faced even presecution. We know all the stories of the early pioneers.
Can we dismiss their achievements in the annals of the education history?
Is there any such awareness today? In India?
I see now and then new schools rated as the top ten or the top thirty etc.
What I see is the external features.
In New Delhi, the new and fancy schools are promoted, say, by the wife of the Cabinet Secretary and so suddenly it becomes fashionable to send the well-off family children therein New Delhi this is a game and a pastime! St.Columba’s? Oh, great or what?
The very same about the old British colonial foundations, the Lawrence, Mayo and the Scindia.
It all depends upon our own status and fancies!
I still feel there is a need to promote and encourage and nurture new ideals and new thoughts in education, culture and values. I repeat that great cultures and great civilizations thrived only where there was this educational renaissance. This is true in ancient Greece or Rome or in medieval Europe and in modern times even in the West.
I myself had visited some of the best such schools in UK, France, Germany, and Switzerland and in other places. I strongly believe in the historical context. You can’t create a concrete experiment in education from nowhere. It has to be in our own historic fit, so to so to say. Our democracy must be well-founded on strong values, liberty, justice and individual freedom, human rights and transparency in governance and moral accountability etc.
These are our current secular values our education process must nurture and advance!
Let us think and debate and argue for new education ideals that would uplift our own sense of warmth and feelings! Our own moral fibre, moral courage would be strengthened and uplifted!