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Intellectual illiteracy

Intellectual illiteracy

AK Ghosh |

Bertrand Russell had conveyed the hint long ago, but it is nevertheless relevant in this day and age.  Education today has become the chief obstacle to intelligence and freedom of thought. Considering the wreckage, the primary purpose of education — the building of character — has been lost. Fear psychosis has gripped the sensible guardians who fear that their wards will not develop into better human beings because most institutions are churning out intellectual adolescents .

One can see how the citadels and ramparts of education are being battered down, evil passions ignited and fanned, principles of plain living and high thinking being twisted into principles of crooked living and disastrous thinking; and the idea of personal sacrifice for the good of others being distorted into sacrifice of others for personal good. As a result, young men with university degrees, instead of becoming sanctified beings, have become savage; the tiger and the bear in them growing and grinning with renewed vigour at human society. What education aims at and purports to do is to minimise the evil propensities and maximise the good ones. Unfortunately, the process appears to have been reversed. Nay more, education has become responsible for making evil even fashionable.

Indian universities, of late, offer hardly any model to the young who perform in an anarchical democracy of competing visions. There seems to be no organisation of the streams or disciplines, no tree of knowledge. Out of chaos emerges dispiritedness. The student gets no particular intimation that great mysteries might be revealed to him, that new and higher motives of action might be discovered within him, that a different and more human way of life can be harmoniously constructed by what he is going to learn.

The university has ceased to be distinctive. The academic world purveys banality and caters to the career needs of a bunch of course-completing and degree-holding illiterates. Cultural relativism inculcated thus has resulted in stunted intellectual growth, verily in the closing of the Indian mind.

This mental clogging is symptomatic of ubiquitous nihilism that is perceived in the world of the Indian youth. Music, sexuality, youthful excesses exacerbated by the permissive society, legitimised by German philosophy from Nietzche to Heidegger and popularised by the mindless modernisers and cultural relativists have further contributed to this nihilism.

Well, just look at the cluster of buildings close by — white, bright and imposing. Yes, it is a university with its offices, colleges, laboratories and libraries. But there is overwhelming commotion and agitation — no atmosphere of study and meditation. Step into a college campus, and one can find colourful posters and banners of sorts. But the only aspect that is surprisingly missing is constructive suggestions regarding implementation of better education for making better human beings. Crowded canteens and empty classrooms are in no way related to the teaching-learning process in an academic institution.

Let us take a look at the teachers sitting comfortably in the staff room. One is sure to hear such terms as memorandum, delegation, expressions conveying resentment against authorities and the like. They are getting ready to teach the unwilling students entering the classrooms like lords. The students have just finished their main duty of organising a gherao against the authorities. Their demands for being declared “pass” with huge grace marks is totally unreasonable.

Are the educational institutions actually temples of learning to which we send our wards? The insistence on mere knowledge to the utter neglect of the inner, the higher and the imperceptible in man has landed us into this quagmire. To make things worse, our tradition of wise living, handed down to us from saint to saint has been most shamefully renounced and set aside as something hackneyed, unscientific and degrading. Notwithstanding the fundamental truth stated by Jesus Christ that “man does not live by bread alone”, today&’s economics teaches us to clamour for bread and more bread. If the young students had been taught to listen to the faint, saintly voices, they would have got something more than bread — grace, peace and a sense of fulfilment. The British at least attached great value to discipline, in whatever sense we may take it. They propagated religion in their own interests and in their own way. We, on the other hand, in the name of freedom and democracy, have quashed discipline and outlawed morality and religion.

The Education Commission of independent India came under the direct influence of the Westerners and ignored the rich tradition of the country. With an alluring but false ideal in front, with the ills of a democratic system splitting the university machinery from within and with a sinister vacuum created by our stupidity,  we have been pushed into a frightful abyss.

A project on “Defining the Meaning and Purpose of Baccalaureate Degrees” was set up by the American Association of Colleges. Its report entitled “Integrity in the College Curriculum: A Report to the Academic Community” published in the Chronicle of Higher Education for 13 February 1985, put the blame for the decline in the quality of teaching squarely on the teachers. That unconcern is a consequence of new trends in an industrial society which necessarily creates new trends in the educational system.

The degree which ought to be a certificate of general intellectual competence has become a certificate of intellectual illiteracy because of the huge and unplanned expansion of the university system which is creating new knowledge but is not able to create a new humanity. We in India can at least offer our students a humane education which will refine their intellectual and moral qualities.

The writer is an Associate Professor, Dept. of English, Gurudas College, Kolkata.