Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Dialogue on School

I wrote this to X in response to his dismay to his graduate level program in the UK.  I don't know if it will have the impact I want.  His other influences are too backward.  And India, northern India especially, is hard on anyone who wants to study.  It's short term versus long term thinking, the latter predominant mentality, is changing ever so slowly.    It is a very, very anti-intellectual society to the shock of any American, I am sure, who associates Indians with education.  The survival mentality breeds a hyper utilitarianism Bentham would envy.  It's sick.  "Be practical, be practical", I never want to here that word again, Practical, what does it mean?  To have no vision, be a follower and stagnate?  And if I bring this up, at once, in unison, all Indians say:  Because you are an American you can think this way.  Yes, I am, but there is a reason Americans rule the world and its imagination.  We are much more than our wealth and arms.  American didn't become rich and then choose to have wonderful, liberal, humanistic ideals, on the contrary,  it's BECAUSE of those ideals, that we rule and are powerful and will continue to be so despite all the doomsayers.        

I can understand why X feels the way he does.  All those who currently rule and change and transform india, did not spend their free time learning Latin and Ancient Greek, or reading philosophy or history.  They were technically oriented.  Where we come from, is different.  Our highest echelons of power are dominated by people who seriously study liberal arts.  Even our medical entrance exams, the MCAT, a third of it is just reading comprehension.  It is a very different approach, with very different incentives.  But for India to change, and to change fundamentally, it will need to embrace all fields of knowledge and intellectual curiosity. And forget personal gain, for a second.  For a person to have a meaningful and deep life, true education and knowledge, allows you to make sense of your failures.  It brings a narrative to your life and a way to view the world, that nothing else can provide.  Also, in a consumer society, it refines your consumption, curtails it, and makes you weary of what you are force fed.  That is why I am so adamant about studies and education, especially in a democracy.  Ignorant people anywhere are a tragedy, but empowered ignorant people; nothing is more dangerous.     


Anonymous said...

"All those who currently rule and change and transform india, did not spend their free time learning Latin and Ancient Greek, or reading philosophy or history. They were technically oriented. Where we come from, is different. Our highest echelons of power are dominated by people who seriously study liberal arts."

Is this supposed to be some elitist statement implying that exclusively studying Latin and Ancient Greek constitute "philosophy and learning" and "embracing intellectual curiousity"? You don't think studying the Vedas, the Upanishads, and learning about the Vedanta, or Yoga embodies "intellectual curiousity"? Oh thats right, I suppose none of the ancient Sanskrit texts contain "true knowledge and education." It's so amusing to see materialistic, consumerist North Americans barge into a foreign country with their know-it-all attitude and after living their for a few years and preach what should be done and how. It is far too easy to point out the mistakes of the other. I leave you with two quotes:

“Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.”
-Benjamin Franklin

“If you have no will to change it, you have no right to criticize it”

gabo arora said...

Dear Anonymous,

It doesn't need to be latin or greek, or western philosophy or history even. Pardon me if that wasn't clear. What I meant was any discipline that fosters critical thinking and questioning ,and above all, an emphasis on serious reading, writing and argumentation. Thats what I mean by liberal arts.

So you can substitute sanskrit and of course the vedas, yoga, though it would have to be done in a way that promotes reflection and critical thinking. But my point is that the Indian system does not encourage or promote this for its elite. There is too much division of knowledge and the change-makers and money makers now, all are technically related. The incentives are different as well as the priorities.

Now as far as the latter part of your comment, I will pass over, though I encourage you to face the facts as you see and witness them - without regard to where they fit in with your ideas of East and West and Imperialism.

American Universities, as a whole, are onjectively far better than anything india has to offer. If that is a controversial statement for you, than I suggest you re-examine what you believe and why.

I admit that my background can be biased, and I am open to that possibility. But it cannot de-legitimize all my critques. Than who is left to differ? Real Indians? Who are they?

All great indians who you probably admire were NRIs are some point. Not because the West is better, but because travel and living and breathing other cultures gives you perspective.

Get some perspective and stop hating the good things about the West. You need to pick and choose wisely rather than hold on to the romantic notions you hint at with the upanishads and yoga. If it was up to you we would all be meditating under a tree out here.