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Values & Education

Valson Thampu |

One of the evident and consistent features of education in India is the growing unease about values-education, socalled. Invariably every report or document on education underlines the need for giving effect to this core component of learning. But values-education continues to languish. Here is a symptom of our diffidence about implementing values-education. We have tried and discarded various names for it.

Once upon a time it was called moral instruction. Then it was named values education. Then, in 2005, it was renamed as peace education. Now we do not know what to call it. Surely, there must be a reason for it. What could that reason be? I have interacted with teachers across the country ~ barring those in J & K ~ on values education.

The one thing common to all of them is palpable diffidence about the relevance and feasibility of orienting students towards values. They feel, without articulating it as such, that what they are made to do in classrooms is quaintly out of tune with the tone and temper of the times. They know, too, that values-education is really nobody’s baby.

Parents assume that their children will inculcate values from schools. Teachers, too busy wrestling with the syllabi, expect students to learn values at home. The managements, paranoid about producing outlandish results, consider values-education to be a distraction.

The State couldn’t care less for it largely because, given the “powergenius” of the State, values are an irksome liability. There is no values-system which does not insist on accountability and transparency, both of which exasperate those who wield power.

The State, irrespective of the parties that animate it, knows only one value ~ raw, unbridled power. It is not my contention that no school is attempting valueseducation. No, many are struggling to do what they can. But even they are diffident about the durability of the influence they exert on students. There is need, therefore, to attain some clarity on the status of values-education, deemed by every society and every philosophy of education as basic to a humanly wholesome education. Let us begin with the cliché: values are caught, not taught.

If values are caught, surely there must be an ambience, a matrix, from which they are caught? We catch fish from water; not from street or sky. The case of catching values is no different. So, what is the environment from which young people are to ‘catch’ values? In Plato’s work, Protagoras, Socrates wonders why it is rare to come across teachers of values, whereas instructors in swordsmanship, in equestrian skills, or performing arts are far easier to come by. Protagoras explains this anomaly by saying that virtues are not to be taught in the classroom by some teachers. They must be taught by ‘the whole community’.

I believe that is the meaning of ‘catching’ values. At any rate, this is the first principle. When it comes to values-education, the community ~ the society and the country ~ is the school. Perhaps, our teachers don’t know this; and they are disempowered by not knowing it. They know that they are under a misplaced burden. The work they do in classrooms is daily, hourly, contradicted by whatever happens in the society at large.

No surprise, if they do! Plato and Aristotle give us further insights into Protagoras’ idea of the ‘community’ as the school for values-education. Community ~ or, in our times, the society or the nation ~ has two components relevant to our purpose here: public opinion and politics. We think of the irresistible power of public opinion as a modern phenomenon. No! It is at least some three millennia old. The Greek philosophers knew that formal education ~ such as was then in vogue ~ stood no chance against the almighty force of public opinion and the moral norms of the given society.

Today, the media has cornered the right to shape public opinion as it deems most expedient. Wonder which media house or journalistic icon is aware of the duty to educate the society in terms of values? Which reporter or scribe is aware of such a duty?

Or, how many editors hold back their pens or cameras in view of the harm to the moral fibre of the society their advocacies are likely to inflict. In the mad rush after revenues-driven TRPs, concerns for the ethical and social health of the society is thrown overboard. Blind sensationalism and oneupmanship sweep aside social responsibility. No one wonders how a student exposed from day to day to chaotic and ill-mannered prime-time TV talk-shows bristling with falsehood, can be taught any values, morals or manners! The second pillar of valueseducation for the Athenians ~ this could surprise you immoderately ~ comprised legislators.

Far more than media Moghuls, legislators were crucial in shaping public opinion and social mores. In Politics, envisaged by Aristotle as a handbook for lawgivers, he assumes that legislators are ‘doctors of the State’! A law-giver is one who has a clear idea of what ought to be done and how the society is to evolve, if it is to be home to good living for citizens.

A legislator ~ to the Greeks, he is synonymous with a statesman ~ is not one who has perfected the art of capturing the helm of the State by hook or crook, but one who knows how to steer the ship of the State steadily and safely as conducive to the welfare of citizens. No legislator is qualified to do his work, unless he is ethically sound and holds himself accountable for the wholeness of the society. Wonder what our legislators would do, if reminded of this norm.

Be that as it may, it is imperative that we insist on the larger nuances of the roles of our MPs and MLAs. As of now, many of them thwart, albeit unknowingly, the cause of values-education simply by conducting themselves the way they think lawgivers should. Young India, soon to be New India could ‘catch’ values and become responsible citizens (cf. Article 51A), if our legislators become values-educators.

(The writer is former Principal, St Stephen’s College, Delhi)