UEE: Discussion 2

September 1, 2013

Rohit Dhankar
[I took a lot of time in coming back to it. And now I have combined two things, to make time: this posting on the blog and Digantar’s course on Foundations of Education. I am going to use this discussion—comments at all—in the foundations of education course. Please inform me if you do not want me to use your comment and/or name. Actually, you can make it clear in the first line of the comment itself.]
The original question:
“Why do we want universalisation of elementary education?”
While posing the question it was assumed that: 1. While we all do want UEE, we may not necessarily agree on why is it important; and 2. Our answer to this why is likely to have very significant influence on the kind of education we try to universalise.
I will try to summarise the responses before suggesting the next steps in the discussion. My summary may be incorrect or biased or both; but that is how I read the responses.
a) Most responses assume a democratic society in justifying UEE, though not necessarily state that directly. They refer to ‘good to society’, ‘equality’, ‘justice’, ‘eradicating disparity’, and so on.
b) One response suggests that first we should investigate the meaning of education to get a good answer to the original question.
c) One response seems to suggest the following line of argument: To justify UEE we need to first understand Aims of Education (AE), to achieve AE we need UEE. But what justifies the chosen AE?
d) Many responses express concerns over the kind of education, quality of education, the idea of minimum essential and actually reaching every child in a fair manner. All legitimate concerns.
e) There are also concerns that education alone may be able to achieve very little and we have to take into account many other factors/forces in the society.
So how do we go forward?
I would suggest (and this is my own belief, which may be wrong) that to think properly we have to formulate a strategy. Thinking on complex issues often get into something akin to ‘old age problem’, and it afflicts the young more forcefully! Let me explain what I mean by old age problem. This is not common and accepted terminogy, just an example to make the point. Some months back I received an email, in which an old man describes his experience: “I got up from my chair to water the plants, but noticed that my car keys were lying on the kitchen table. I picked up the keys and went to the board on which all keys are hung, while putting the keys at their proper pace I noticed that the window was open and mosquitoes were coming in the house. While I was walking to the window to close it noticed that yesterdays newspaper was lying on the floor, I picked it up and walked to the place for old newspapers beneath the staircase…..”. There is something similar with the described experience of the old man and the way we try to think of conceptual problems. We want to understand why do we want UEE, then notice that we are not able to reach the education to every child, so start thinking why is that happening and what could we do about this? But before we take a few steps in that direction we notice that the UEE does not really change societies, so many other things are needed, what are they? While we are looking at those factors we notice that mid-day meal has not served the purposes it should have, and so on …..
This is what I loosely describe as old-age problem. Of course, a powerful defence could be mounted in favour of this way of thinking, all things matter in education and concepts and results derived on partial consideration are going to be inadequate, even may be misleading and outright wrong. Therefore, before we can answer the question UEE, we must look at all other problems of education and society. Personally I feel we will reach no where through this method unless we workout a strategy of thinking with clarity. The strategy I suggest is as follows:
1. We make a decision to move between analysis and synthesis as frequently as needed. The meaning of analysis I propose here is: “The abstract separation of a whole into its constituent parts in order to study the parts and their relations”. Similarly synthesis is “combination of ideas into a complex whole”. We do this as often as is required.
2. But we also stay with a line of thought to arrive at some consolidation stage, so that we don’t lose the results of our labours, and can retrieve them when taking that line becomes necessary again. This means we ‘bracket’ our results and move to the next stage, issue, or topic.
3. We move between exploring ‘what ought to be’ and ‘what is’ the case as often as required; but don’t mix the two, remain clear on which one we are talking about.
4. Similarly we move between conceptual analysis and practical issues, but keeping our results in a retrievable form.
5. We keep all results of our thinking provisional, when considering new factors and new angles, revisions may seem necessary and we don’t hesitate to review and revise when the need occurs.
6. And all this we do in the light of rational grounds and avoid intellectual fashions and political correct stances if they come into conflict with reason.
Obviously one can formulate dozens of more strategies which might be equally useful, this is just one of them. Also, formulating the strategy does not give us a unique way of its application. So we can also decide to apply it in more than one ways.
In our present discussion I suggest we bracket the issues which are not directly necessary at this stage to investigate ‘why UEE’. And focus first on arriving at some understanding of it. Some questions and their tentative (till we feel a need to review/revise them) are suggested below. To my mind they are necessary to move to the next stage.
I suggest we make a distinction between ‘social purposes of education’ and ‘aims of education’. Let’s tentatively take the following:
Social Purposes of Education (SPE): answer(s) to the question ‘why a society wants education’. For example: ‘to create a just society’, ‘to become a developed economy’, ‘for greater prosperity’, ‘for social cohesion’, ‘to protect our cultural heritage’, and so on. Notice that all these purposes are about what kind of social living we want, and pertain to the over all system of education. They are purposes of the system of education. They are directed at justifying and characterising a system of education. PSE are focussed on developing/creating/sustaining the desirable society.
Aims of Education (AE): aims of education properly speaking articulate capabilities, understanding, values, qualities of character and skills that we want to develop in the individual educatee. Examples would be: “rational commitment to democratic values”, “knowledge about social world”, “capability to negotiate one’s rights”, “sensitivity to other human beings”, and so on. AE are focussed on developing the desirable kind of individual.
System of education: let’s define system of education as the totality of structures and procedures created for implementation or practice of education, governance of these structures, and policy making for education. Thus system of education would be the totality of all structures starting from school to CABE and Indian parliament when it discusses education.
Education: let’s begin with a simple definition of education—“intentional teaching-learning with its processed and outcomes”. This is simple and may be contested. But we will modify and make it more sophisticated as we go along.
Consider all these definitions ‘stipulative’ , to begin our explorations. Now, if we understand the discussion in the light of these definitions, it looks somewhat like:
1. The original question “why UEE” is a request to state and justify social purposes of education. That is explanation of why a society wants UEE, what purposes it wants to achieve through it.
2. If we say to ‘achieve aims of education for all children’ then we need to first articulate and justify aims of education. And also justify why ‘all children’? So the question does not go away, it persists in a changed form.
3. Also, a new question arises: which set of purposes/aims is relatively primary? The social purposes of education (SPE) or aims of education (AE)? In other words: do we first want to decide about SPE and then derive (at least partially) the AE from them? Or, alternatively, go other way round—first define AE and then SPE from them? The question can also be asked: which is primary—the vision of society or the vision of individual? Or neither?
4. We can say that we assume a democratic society and then try to fashion our SPE to achieve that social vision. Once we have the SPE we fashion our AE to match with SPE and vision of the desirable society. So SPE have to confirm to the social vision and AE to social vision as well as to SPE.
5. Of course, we are just scratching the surface. Because SPE and AE will be much influenced by the current state of society—how far from democratic is it? How different people see democracy? How shall we negotiate the path to genuine democracy from current state of affairs? And so on. But we are keeping these issues bracketed just yet. Will come to them a little later.
Next stage questions:
Suppose we take the democratic route, then the immediate questions we face are:
• How we define democracy?
• How do we justify out choice of a democratic society?
• What kind of SPE would be necessary (or most suitable?) for a democratic society?
• What kind of AE will be necessary (or most suitable) for a democracy and accepted SPE?
I suggest we deal with these last four questions. Because if the route to exploration I have suggested is acceptable then we can make no genuine headway without dealing with them.
[The discussion has become somewhat complicated. But I do not know how to keep it simple!]

If Maharashtra anti-superstition ordinance were in force Krishna, Jesus and Mohammad would have been jailed

September 1, 2013

Rohit Dhankar

Dr. Dabholkar was murdered for helping people think better, rationally and developing their reason to deal with fraudulent superstition. He was actually working for the fundamental duties according to the constitution of India: “to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”, Section 51A(h). The state which is very sensitive on protection of those who violate the constitution (religious bigots, regional hate mongers like Raj Thackeray, and innumerable other) could not protect a citizen who was working for the constitutional duties and within constitutional rights.

But when Dr. Dabholkar was murdered and people paid attention to his work and sacrifice; the state quickly wanted to redeem itself. So they passed an ordinance with a mouth full of a name, hold your breath: “Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Ordinance, 2013”. Its too big, I will simply call it “Maharashtra Anti-Superstition Ordinance” (MASO).

This ordinance has many progressive stipulations and should be welcomed for them. Much fraud happens in the name of religious beliefs, magic, tantra, and super natural powers. Politicians and film starts are the most visible people who promote superstitions regarding powers of five-star babas. They spread five-start superstitions. The common public does not have wherewithals to indulge in five-star superstition with five star babas, so they have their own cheep versions with cheep babas. These babas usually are criminals and the public does need protection from them. So the ordnance is perhaps to do some good.

But, the ordinance also has problems. It is very badly drafted, and has provisions that seem to be problematic in a democracy. Let’s have a look at some of these problems.

Item 11 (a) in the schedule of banned practices takes the cake to my mind. The full text of 11(a) reads: To create an impression that special supernatural powers are present in himself, incarnation of another person or holy spirit or that the devotee was his wife, husband or paramour in the past birth, thereby indulging into sexual activity with such person.” It can be divided into two parts, one I have italicized and other is made bold. The acts in the bold part, of course, should be punishable. The problem is caused by the italicized part.

Now Krishna claimed to be the God in Gita, and also showed supernatural power to Arjuna. Jesus declared himself to be god’s son and turned water into wine. Under this ordinance both would have been sent to jail minimum for 6 months. A good rationalist could have taken Mohammad to court for claiming that the Koranic verses were given to him by Gabriel, a super natural being.

I have no love lost for the three gentlemen mentioned in the paragraph above. But in a democracy with freedom of expression I would definitely support them to express what they believed. Punishing them for openly declaring what they thought to be true is throttling freedom of expression; if one allows it in this matter today, it will be done in other matters tomorrow. So a democratic citizen should come to the support of Krishna, Jesus and Mohammad in this matter, and work for changing the law. If someone today believes that he is a prophet or an avatar, it should not be nabbed b y law.

However, a critical democratic citizen should also contest the propagation of false beliefs. But that, in such cases, can not be done on the pain of punishment. Therefore, they should be allowed to express their views, and then should be challenged publicly and exposed for being deluded or deliberately mischievous. The MASO does no service either to democracy or to reason by this provision. Actually, it positively harms both. It harms democracy by curtailing freedom of expression and reason by propping it up through the crutches of law. Reason that can not stand on its own feet is lame and useless. Laws don’t change people’s beliefs, only behavior; that too if rigorously implemented.

Banned item 5 in the schedule states (part only): “To create an impression by declaring that a power inapprehensible by senses has influenced one’s body.” I wonder if I can sue a doctor who tells me that I am suffering from schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is not apprehensible by senses and can affect the body as well.

Superstitions can be relatively benign and their practitioners may not charge anything. Let me give an example. “Moch-aan” is a term used for stiffness in body parts in some rural areas of north India. And it is supposed to be cured if a person who is born feet-first presses the stiff part of the body seven times with the big toe of his left foot. Now this is plainly silly. But is it punishable? This may be interpreted as possession of special supernatural power which is punishable as per item 11(b) of the schedule. Of course such silly superstitions should be eradicated, but not by law. The state should make laws only for those superstitions which cause harm and/or involve crime. This law plays with people’s beliefs in too wide an area. Things which should be fought through rational dialogue and do not involve harm or crime should be fought rationally only.

The law is also very vague. In section two (on definitions) I states: ““human sacrifice and other inhuman, evil and aghori practices and black magic” means the commission of any act, mentioned or described in the Schedule appended to this Ordinance, by any person, by himself or caused to be committed through or by instigating any other person.” It promises to give definition of “inhuman, evil and aghori practices and black magic” in the schedule. But the schedule itself keeps on repeating the same terms without ever defining them. I think meditating in shamshan is an aghori practice. Why should it be punished?

As per the definition of “propagation” in section 2(d) I believe Sudhir Kakkar can be punished for one of his books (if I remember correctly “Shamans, Mystics, And Doctors”) as it gives detailed description of aghori practices. What the definition of “propagation” in the ordnance says is: ““propagate” means issuance or publication of advertisement, literature, article or book relating to or about human sacrifice and other inhuman, evil and aghori practices and black magic and includes any form of direct or indirect help, abatement, participation or cooperation with regard to human sacrifice and other inhuman, evil and aghori practices and black magic”.

It seems the Maharashtra government wanted to show its concern for superstitions and its rationalist credentials in the atmosphere created in wake of Dr. Dabholkar. They did not have enough time to think through the ordinance and promulgated a vague ordinance. This vagueness is good neither for rational attitude nor for democracy. Let’s remember that vague parts of laws become un-implementable and that harms the cause for which the law was created.