Thursday, September 11, 2014

What's wrong with Western Education? : 3

Let's start with the outrageous: Why is it that a woman wearing a Niqab a sign of oppression while consuming umpteen bottles of wine and getting drunk a sign of freedom? While this may appear to be a question designed to irritate the French, what this is really about is a concept the French pioneered: Liberty!Liberty is central to the proposition of Western Education in the traditional societies - it is supposed to make one free - but when one is in a debate such as this, it makes sense to go beyond the rhetoric and what this stands for.

Western Education, which could be defined as a system of education representing the values and beliefs of the European and North American societies and which are usually imposed on societies of lesser means with superior financial and publicity support, draws its legitimacy from four interlinked philosophical claims: That it makes one free, that it creates refinement, that it helps to build superior and prosperous societies, and it enables agency and change. These claims are presented in contrast to what a traditional education could offer - and by implication, the traditional education is seen as one restricting individuals in a social hierarchy, confining them into backwardness and poverty, causing low economic growth and social deprivation, and dis-empowering the individual and binding them to a structure.

While the question of Niqab versus Alcohol is politically loaded and often used by fanatics of different sorts to justify violations of rights and freedom of innocent people, we may use it for a limited purpose to expose what the concept of liberty, as advertised to be a core proposition of Western Education, has come to mean. The freedom, as implied here, is the freedom to consume: Regardless of social norms, environmental constraints, and even financial means, as finding new ways of indebtedness is one of the great achievements of Western civilisation, one must be free to consume! Anything else, deviation from social norms of consumption, preaching restraint, all fall outside this concept of freedom: The idea that one could deprive oneself from being seen - and desired - is an anathema to this idea of liberty. 

The idea of refinement is indeed defined in these terms as well. The serene beauty of a traditional location must be packaged and presented to be counted as a worthwhile place to visit or to live in. Refinement may demand that one attains a certain lifestyle, ability to consume fine wine produced in a certain region of France among them, even if this means giving up one's family home and being an immigrant in search of economic means to attain such consumption. Refinement also means being able to speak in certain languages with the correct diction, even if this means accent training and neutralising one's own way of speaking. It means desiring certain objects and not others, and most certainly not the traditional, the obvious, the old and whatever came from one's grandfather.

That Western Education creates prosperous societies is supported by the claim that it had helped create prosperous societies in the West, though the other major factor that helped in such prosperity - piracy and pillage - is played down and other societies are discouraged from using it. Education, in this view, is seen as a tool, an external technical method, rather than a social contract that emerges based on certain ideas and values inherent in the host societies. The problem of such technical view of education is that it deprives its recipient from a sense of culture. If anyone wonders why an Indian Professional would spend a great amount of money taking a holiday in Switzerland but would do nothing to clean the streets in front of his house, and even throw garbage on it, is perhaps this limiting of education to imported technicalities, and destroying the links between an individual and his immediate surrounding. The flawed notion that the march to prosperity in the West was a smooth march of innovation and improvement of competence underlie this prescription, but the historical realities of Western societies, where the experience has been messy and often accidental and free of any imposed education system, and the actual experience of most traditional societies over the last half century give evidence on the contrary.

Finally, the claim of individual agency is based on a dialectical relationship with everything else, most prominently with nature as worshipped in traditional societies. While we may have different views about whether man should see nature as a resource, and how far one should subject natural resources to one's own demands and desires, using up one's own environment for pursuit of a consumption goal set by distant metropolitan masters of the world is an act of self-destruction. And, indeed, individual agency in this concept goes as far as just that - submission to the ideas of human worth as defined by the masters of the universe - and denying all other competing concepts of existence. Such a journey is destined to end at Margaret Thatcher's point of no return of 'there is no thing as society' - and that end is messy and rather scary! We are anecdotally aware of the perils of the unrestrained individual agency, without a balancing idea of individual ethic: With an imposed education system continuously battling, and effectively destroying, the sense of ethic that arose out of either religious commitments or simple belonging, individual agency may not appear as desirable a goal. 

Questioning the value of an imposed education system should not be construed as a rejection of knowledge, which is a common human heritage, but rather an invitation to re-imagine: This imagination may follow the lines of the great educators, Western and Eastern - how to liberate human spirit, how to find beauty in one's own world, how to bond together with other human beings and how to initiate change - but not the prescription of those who wish to subjugate, restrict, divide and destroy human spirit to their own advantage.     

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