The challenge of citizenship training

As a teacher, how do you train students to become enlightened citizens of our country?

I: The change we seek

What is citizen training?

Training our ‘citizens’ means enabling our fellow countrymen to transcend their narrow personal identities and work within the framework of their shared identity as Indians.

Working within a ‘shared identity’ as Indians also means that each of us takes responsibility not first for ourselves but for the collective.

This is easier said than done – because this means a second shift from ‘membership’ to ‘ownership’ – ‘I am a member of this community’ to ‘I am co-owner of this community’ – leading to a recognition that “If I do not take up the challenge, then who will?”

These dimensions of the citizen identity – shared identity (beyond one’s narrow/functional identities) and ownership (of the whole, rather than the part) together represent the building blocks of citizen training.

Engaging with Human Transformation

How is this shift in identity & ownership to be brought about?

  1. How to make one-billion Indians conscious of their shared Indianness, and furthermore, invoke within them, a sense of responsibility for the nation’s welfare – in abstract – and the welfare of their fellowmen – in concrete?
  2. This is a human transformation challenge – in contrast to being a capacity development or a “comprehension of concepts” challenge.

We seek not that people add new skills and capabilities; we do not seek that people “understand the magnitude of the challenge in front of us”.

We seek instead that people awaken to the challenges – that they recognize that these challenges need to be dealt with by each one of us – and that they choose to act such that they are able to contribute effectively to the challenges facing us.

In short, we seek human transformation i.e. (i) awakening (ii) recognizing (iii) choosing, and (iv) contributing to the challenges.

II: A New Model for Citizen Training

The Current Educational Model

Let us appreciate the scope and limitations of the current educational model – so that we find out why such a human transformative education has not been successful thus far.

The first and most crucial aspect of the current educational model is its emphasis on “knowing”.

Knowing is an intellectual activity. “He is a dull child”; “he is a bright child” – all these terms are related to knowing.

School is therefore seen as a framework to enable individuals to acquire, comprehend, and apply, if possible a vast body of knowledge.

While it is true that schools speak of all-round development – the thrust of our current educational model remains “knowing”.

The second aspect of the current educational model is its inordinate emphasis on “measuring” – based on the premise that life is a race and the fastest, swiftest, ablest shall win.

The third aspect of the current model is its complete disregard for the practice of conscious self-reflection – the capacity to investigate oneself and thereby make a change in the inner individual.

The fourth aspect of the current model is its deep disdain for the qualitative aspects of human capacity – such as our capacities for love, beauty, harmony etc.

And the fifth, perhaps the most important aspect of the current educational model is its inability to deal with man’s capacity to transcend his own narrow – almost material boundaries and soar to a larger vision of himself as collective.

A new model based on Citizenship

This review provides us with a comparative context in which we seek to present a new model for education for human transformation.

Firstly, we would need to shift the emphasis of the schooling system from ‘knowing’ to ‘becoming’.

Becoming is an ideal, where individuals embark upon and proceed on a journey of personal transformation – not as a by-product of circumstances, but as a conscious journey of human expansion.

Secondly, we would need to shift the emphasis from ‘measuring one human being against others, on one or more dimensions’ to ‘enabling each human being to benchmark himself or herself as an incentive to progress steadily in the pathway of becoming’.

Thirdly, we would need to bring to practice, the methods of conscious self-reflection.

This implies that we would need to enable individuals to build a new ‘model of reality’ that is not outside man alone, but a new model of reality that includes man outside and man inside. Such a model would enable individuals to move self-reflection from a non-specific, qualitative expression of feelings and ideas into a specific methodology for identification and directed action.

Fourthly, a human transformative model would enable individuals to affirm their own “inner vision of reality” – which includes their own conceptions of beauty, love, knowledge, reality etc.

All too often, these profound aspects of human life are reduced to specific physical expressions such as attraction for physical beauty, a set of specific culturally valid expressions of love, a reduction of knowledge itself into a body of information to be acquired etc.

This reaffirmation of man’s inner conception of reality validates and brings to the fore the deeper trans-functional aspects of human existence.

This in turn enables individuals to become free of outside evaluation and outside opinions – and create their own meaning in life.

Finally, a human transformation education, must necessarily undertake the agenda of expanding each individuals conception of himself or herself – such an act leading to a breakdown of ever-growing divisions between man and man, and an increase in inter-human love and sympathy.

III: Implications

Roadmap for Change

The discussion thus far has highlighted why the much needed transformation of our society is not taking place.

The truth: our current educational model is simply not equipped to deal with this kind of change.

What can an individual teacher or educationist do, so that such a human transformation is brought into the scope of an educational system that is deeply tied up in an existing institutional structure on one side and an existing structure of societal expectations on the other?

The question is to be answered by proposing a roadmap for change.

Step 1: Let us all inquire into the educational system – not by analyzing its ills – but by identifying specific gaps and then bringing about positive change in these gaps.

Step 2: Let us address for ourselves – whether we ourselves are perpetuators and perpetrators of the very system we condemn. In short, are the doctors themselves patients first? If yes, what can I, as an individual do about it?

Step 3: Let us propose a new model of education that doesn’t tear down, but instead builds on the present model.

Step 4: Finally, change, especially in the most stable of human institutions – the educational system – must take place because society itself must recognize the need for transcending the current system – and seek, therefore, our adjustment to the changing society outside.

In other words, we do not propose an alternative – we propose instead an evolution – which will be tuned not to man as a static economic being alone (bread-winning), coping with the world around him, but to an evolved concept of man as a dynamic, member of the human collective, who seeks and finds fulfilment, both outside and within, through life itself.

The implications for society

What is our prototype for developing men? This prototype cannot be restricted to the meditative Indian rishis, nor to the Greek prototype of physical perfection, nor to the Roman prototype of organization and expansion, but must include all.

A new prototype deeply aligned to the national ideal of renunciation and service was proposed by Swami Vivekananda. He himself was a living embodiment of this prototype. In his own words:

 “You must try to combine in your life immense idealism with immense practicality. You must be prepared to go into deep meditation now, and the next moment you must be ready to go and cultivate these fields. You must be prepared to explain the difficult intricacies of the Shâstras  now, and the next moment to go and sell the produce of the fields in the market.”

The quotation above demonstrates clearly that the ideal proposed by Swami Vivekananda necessarily involved a deep flexibility of role and contribution, keeping in mind the higher purpose towards which we work.

This role flexibility is in direct contrast to the fixed constellation of roles that characterize not just Indian society through centuries but also most hierarchical institutions as well.

 

(Originally written in May 2009)

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