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Schooling in a paradigm of death

Schooling in a paradigm of death

The only people who were forewarned of the tsunami and managed to escape it were the unschooled Adivasi of the Andamans. Their traditional wisdom, passed down through generations, told them what the signs to look out were [abnormal receding of the sea] and what to do when they saw those signs [run to the high ground]. With all the modern technology at his disposal, homo intelligentious did not have that much common sense. Used to dismissing practices and beliefs of the unschooled as myth and superstition, we seem to have lost out on the basic purpose of schooling: to impart education to make life better. We now equate schooling with education, and certification of our writing skills as the only yardstick for knowledge and wisdom. This modern fallacy of certified institutional knowledge being the only source of wisdom is as equally devastating as the olden method of equating age and wisdom. The old practice of shaving one’s head to show wisdom [as in a bald head, a signifier of age] now gives way to the new practice of forging certificates. No matter how skilled the practitioner, there is more respect accorded to the certified theorist.

The malaise in our schooling goes much deeper than the mere forging of certification—of the written or shaved variety. It is, at the very least, structural. It makes the person believe that knowledge can be acquired only on classrooms, with the token ‘study tour’ and ‘practicals’ thrown in. They lose the capacity to learn outside the classroom, and without a physical teacher present. Learning from daily experiences, much less learning from life itself, becomes difficult. Many report a ‘de-schooling’ process before they rediscover the skill.

But the true roots of the malaise go much deeper. The present system of schooling was invented in the industrial age to create an army of clerks for book-keeping. It was a worthy successor to the monasteries which trained men to copy religious texts from long extinct languages. Little wonder then that the paradigm of death permeates schooling. Industrial society measured not the happiness but the ‘efficiency of production’. This led to absurdities that still haunt us. We measure, and our sense of wellbeing depends on the results of this flawed measurement.

We forget that the tools developed by industrial society are essentially to measure the ‘dead value’. One of the devastating consequences of applying it to life is that a live tree has no value. A dead tree can be bought and sold for its timber. A healthy population has no value. But an unhealthy one would buy a lot of medicines and therefore increase the GDP. A harmonious society would be bad for the economy, since there would be no war, and therefore no armaments… and no production and so a low GDP and little or no ‘growth’. It also leads to absurdities of having car loans at 7% or less [often 0% or negative if inflation is factored in], and agricultural loans at a ‘concessional rate’ of 9% when it is guaranteed by the government!

This paradigm of death results in a serious backlash against life itself. Highly literate societies have fewer children. This is not because of women’s liberation as is frequently taught, but because of the internalising of the paradigm of death. If it were really so, graduates from Malaysia to Russia wouldn’t need incentives to marry and have children. The higher the number of years of schooling, the less the love of life and children. Post graduates have less children than graduates, and doctorates less than both. It is little wonder that the most cruel atrocities against children come not from the unlettered but from the expensively schooled and highly civilised sections of society. To no ones surprise, most of the cases of child abuse are perpetrated by ‘white collar workers’ and PhDs.

It is a well known scientific fact that ex-situ conservation—conservation outside the ‘home’ environment—is useless since species are continuously evolving. Yet these same scientists promote huge isolated conservation areas in ‘protected areas’ as ‘carbon sinks’ as if they can be isolated from the consequences of devastation caused to the environment elsewhere such as acid rain. Just as ex-situ conservation does not work, neither does ex-situ learning. How many of us remember the calculus that we did in school? Learning is through doing, and knowledge is gained through continuous use. The eight year old Soliga child can identify all the plant species in the surrounding forest. How many of our Masters of Botany can do so? Is it really a coincidence that the state with the highest literacy has the highest rate of suicide?

The state of our health is determined by economic factors, but the very classification of ‘health’ is determined by market forces. These market forces classify certain bodily functions and natural states as ‘unhealthy’ and needing hospitalisation. In one absurd case, one indicator of a country’s progress is the number of births in a hospital! The implication of more births in a hospital is actually that more women are unhealthy. Giving birth is a natural body function of a woman, and healthy women do not need ‘medical attention’. By declaring it a ‘medical condition’ and then tracking it as a ‘development indicator’ entire populations are brainwashed into an appropriation of knowledge and external determination of what is ‘healthy’ and what is not. A generation ago, we had the infamous campaign that resulted in children not getting mothers’ milk. A costly campaign had to be run to take back traditional practice and reclaim the traditional wisdom. In its extreme form, this focus on the disease and never-mind the side effects is the American way of collateral damage: kill half a million Iraqi children to save Iraq, or saving Vietnam by killing entire villages of Vietnamese men, women and children!

The actual consequence of having births in institutions is that the knowledge of giving birth is not embedded within the family or community, but taken away to an institution and made ‘ex situ’. Even if the doctors are from the community, their tools are such that they cannot be individually owned or operated. In heart surgeries for instance, an entire team needs to work in concert with specialist instruments. But the solution to heart disease—as the doctors themselves admit in their moments of lucidity—is not in surgery or in treating the disease, but in healthy food, healthy habits and a healthy lifestyle—all of which are not ‘money spinners’ and therefore fall outside the purview of the present ‘medical industry’. Not surprisingly, ‘workouts’ are prescribed that require costly gyms and equipments, since that can be measured. The best exercise is walking… but since no certified experts are required for it, those who maintain good health through it are considered backward—such as the adivasi. The Adivasi may not know what is COD or BOD—and even less on how to manipulate the standards and measurements to benefit big business—but they are able to know that the water is polluted when they see sick and dead fish. The expensively schooled scientist, sponsored by capitalists goes into denial or sophistry often saying that the Chemical/ Biological Oxygen Demand is well within ‘acceptable limits’. The difference in world views is exemplified by the fundamental characteristics of the key inventions of the agrarian era and the industrial era: the lamp and the electric bulb. Though the electric bulbs can turn night into day, but it is only the humble candle and lamp that can light another.

Given the increasing complexity of modern life, it is necessary that we specialise. However, it is equally necessary to ensure that all human endeavour is to promote human wellbeing and at no time should it compromise the human dignity of anyone. The present paradigm sees knowledge creation and use as ‘outsiders’, which in its extreme form is voyeurism. What is required is a new paradigm where we measure not in terms of money, but use common sense to have different indicators of human wellbeing. This would show that expenses on disease actually take away from GDP and not enhance it as is the common perception. We would need a paradigm of life, rather than a paradigm measuring death; a paradigm that affirms that life is to live, not to prepare to live; and certainly not to promote the wellbeing of the market at the cost of human dignity and wellbeing.

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