A christian response to the right to education


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A christian response to the right to education

  1. 1. A Christian response to the right to education Anita Cheria and EdwinIntroduction A prerequisite to understanding the Christian response to the constitutional Right to Education (RTE),especially its inclusive provisions, needs a journey through history, from when Bibles were so rare that theywere secured by padlocks in churches and when the church actively forbade knowledge. In Indian history itmeans understanding that for a large part of its history, Indians were not allowed to learn, and deliberatelykept unlettered on the pain of extreme forms of punishment. The constitutional RTE is only a step on the journey to make education truly universal, but the passageof the RTE amendment and now its implementation can rightly be said to be the culmination of a processthat can be traced to the Reformation or even the dawn of Christianity itself. In changing the vocabularyfrom ‘Christian values’ to human rights, a signal victory has been won for humanity as a whole, rooted inour faith to be sure, but inclusive of all humanity with all its diversity. It is not that others did not have the opportunity or the means. The invention of the printing presscertainly helped in the Reformation and in the spread of knowledge. But others too had the means. TheChinese had the printing press (and gunpowder) much earlier. What made the Christian obsession withsharing an important part of the Christian meme, something that made a sociologist to postulate that WASP(White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) is a prerequisite for capitalism and free enterprise? What makes for thesharing—the Bible first, but then advances in science and technology, especially medicine? The role of Christian education has been seminal in this country since it could decisively break socialnorms that prohibited free acquisition and sharing of knowledge. With this spread of knowledge camemany social reform movements that benefited Indians as a whole, including the widow remarriage, self-respect and independence movements. Monarchies in India started public schools based on this model,explicitly opening institutions for the hitherto excluded. The success of this type of education has been mixed. All the leaders, including the ones headingcommunal, anti-Christian formations, have gone through the portals of Christian/ Roman Catholiceducational institutions within the country or abroad. But on balance, the mass education process has beenan invention and a singular success of a Christian, but rapidly secularising, historical process. This note looks at the historical development and the emerging opportunities of Christian education.Some of the findings are unflattering. However, the contribution of the secularising system of education(getting more secular with time) has been sterling. The task is to continue the pioneering role, continuing todemonstrate that inclusion, the unthinkable, is not only possible but the routine and continues to be the trueChristian mission.The exclusive sacred: Constructing knowledge and the architecture of language Historically, only some knowledge has been acknowledged as knowledge itself, the modern day versionof ‘my superstition is scripture but your scriptures are myths’. This enabled those of the ‘true knowledge’to define what is the commons and what is private, who owns what and what is legitimate. The keepers of‘true knowledge’ can then determine access, control, privilege, and exclusion from the commons. Religionand culture are ways of organising knowledge. They are for enclosing the commons and used as such bythe powerful. Though claiming to be ‘universal’—and therefore the ‘commons’ of at least humanity—major religions of the world still are exclusivist not only towards others (calling them pagan, infidel, kafir,Asura, Daeva) but also to those within its fold. Though knowledge was shared within the community, the ‘community’ was narrowly defined. It oftenmeant only the male of a sub–sect of a sub–clan. Priesthood is a virtual male monopoly, with differentlevels of initiation over long periods of trial being a prerequisite for greater access. Knowledge wasprivatised and jealously guarded by making them ‘sacred’ and only for the ‘chosen’. In extreme cases, eventhe knowledge of the ‘sacred language’ was prohibited. The poor were not even allowed to learn thelanguage of power—whether Sanskrit, Latin or English. ‘Scriptures’ were kept hidden from the commons,who could not know what they said. Ideological systems such as religion, caste (varna), race, and A Christian response to the right to education Anita Cheria and Edwin; 28 June 2012
  2. 2. patriarchy worked in tandem to reinforce each other, slowly but inexorably, with grinding finality, fencingoff the commoner from knowledge and the ‘higher’ pursuits.Our common heritage The earliest known attempt to common knowledge in India was by Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha(563–486BC), who taught in Pali, the language of the commons. It is no coincidence that both of India’sancient universities—at Nalanda and Taxila—were Buddhist with about 10,000 students and a teacherstudent ratio of 1:5. For his trouble, the gatekeepers of knowledge exterminated Buddhism from the land ofits origin. A similar attempt to common knowledge had to await the advent of Mohammed in Arabia in theseventh century—over a thousand years—who ensured that Islam was taught in the language of thecommons, Arabic. Ironically, it was the adherents of Islam who sacked both the Buddhist universities. In Judaism, knowledge, especially esoteric knowledge, was a preserve of the hereditary priestly class.Christianity was taught in Aramaic, and priesthood was opened to all, thus making knowledge available tomore sections of society. Though Christianity was taught in Aramaic, the language of the people, its textswere in Hebrew, Greek and Latin—all languages of the gatekeepers. It reached such a level of exclusionthat Europe, where the Roman Catholic church held sway, fell into the ‘age of faith’ or the ‘dark ages’—aterm coined by a Roman Catholic Priest. ‘Dark’ in this context meant absence of written records. Literacylevels were close to zero. It took the Reformation, and the insistence of the Protestant Christians onschooling and literacy, for the Roman Catholics to turn their attention to literacy in the CounterReformation. The Society of Jesus, popularly called the Jesuits, were formed for the purpose. In the millennial belief system on the return of Christ, Christendom launched an attack to ‘liberate theholy land’ at the time of his second coming. The contact of the Europeans with the Arabs during thecrusades (1095–1291) led to the Renaissance (14th century) and the Reformation (14th to 16th centuries)—helped in no small measure by the printing press (1440)—that helped democratise knowledge. TheRenaissance and the Reformation were the direct results. Since the reformers were not allowed to read The Bible in their language, they translated, printed anddistributed it. One of the first books to be printed was the Bible in Latin (1456) and then in local languagesof the people, again making ‘knowledge’ accessible to the commons. John Wycliffe translated The Bibleinto English in 1382 itself. The cost was heavy. Wycliffe’s bones were dug up and burnt 40 years after hisdeath. Hus was burnt at the stake in 1415, with Wycliffe’s translated handwritten Bibles used as kindles forthe fire. William Tyndale was strangled and burnt in 1536. With the advent of the printing press, Biblescould be printed faster than they—the books, the readers, or the translators—could be burnt. MartinLuther’s German translation of The Bible was available in 1534, and the New Testament in 1522. With typical German efficiency, the hitherto restricted–to–the–Roman–Catholic–clergy system ofeducation was thrown open to anyone with an interest in studying. An illiterate child could be taughtcutting edge knowledge with industrial precision within five years. A decade of schooling was all it took tochurn out ‘bachelors’ and ‘masters’ in various specialities—something that took a lifetime before. Not onlythat, they learnt the languages of others and made The Bible available in those languages too. Validatingknowledge in different languages and not only the ‘holy language’ is a natural progression. This providedthe backbone on which the entire modern system of education is built—learn in your mother tongue. The unintended consequence of the printing press and increased literacy was that oral traditions werewiped out, de–legitimised, or made ‘less’, especially in the legal system. Only written titles and contractswere recognised. Five centuries on, oral traditions have not recovered from this knockout blow, despitedevelopment in audio visual technology. With this explosion of knowledge and scientific enquiry came theAge of Reason and the industrial revolution, on a global scale. The imperial overreach of the crusades had a debilitating effect on most European monarchies. Thecrusade–weakened kings were almost bankrupt. They could not conquer the land required to expand theirtax base to support their lifestyle. They could not raise taxes on their war weary subjects. Instead, thesubjects wrested concessions from them. The subjects could, with the permission of the monarchs given in‘charters’ form companies to plunder non-Christian lands and share the profits among themselvesaccording to their investment, and pay a small part to the monarch as ‘tax’ though the monarch did not A Christian response to the right to education Anita Cheria and Edwin; 28 June 2012
  3. 3. invest. In the colonies, among themselves, the colonisers could move beyond the social and economicboundaries imposed on them by their own societies and nations with some limited social mobility. Theyfreed themselves from the tyranny of the kings and established the rule of law. The British East India Company Act was set up in 1600 with a monopoly of trade in India. However, in1813, by the Charter Act of 1813, the Company’s commercial monopoly was ended. The Act expresslyasserted the monarch’s sovereignty. The Act made financial provision to encourage a revival in Indianliterature and for the promotion of science. Most importantly, it allotted Rs 100,000 to promote educationin India, and Christian missionaries were allowed to come to India.The first wave The schooling system established by Christian missionaries who piggybacked on the mercantileconquest brought knowledge back to the commoners to a degree not witnessed since Buddhist days.Though the first printed Indian work was released on 6 November 1556, by 1800 the trickle turned into aflood that would churn out 86 dictionaries, 115 grammar books and 45 journals in 73 languages of India(apart from the Bible). With the backing of the printing press, they could make available books, andtherefore knowledge, at an affordable price to the commoner on a scale hitherto unimaginable. Contrary topopular misconception, the British were not in favour of the missionaries, who they felt were teaching‘dangerous ideas of egalitarianism’ to the natives. Secularising knowledge by setting up the schoolingsystem—first set up to produce clerks for the colonial administration—provided for upward mobility. Reform minded rulers set up similar schools in their territories, often employing British administrators tohelp in the planning and running of these schools. Citizens from the kingdoms were sent on governmentscholarships to study in the British and American institutions. Both Ambedkar and Mahatma Phuleacknowledged that the advent of the British was far from an unmitigated disaster for the depressed classes.On the contrary, it was a qualified blessing. The result of this mission-based schooling is the success in increased literacy among the social sectionstraditionally considered outcast, leading to their social mobility. Though drawn from the lowest sections ofsociety, Christians have a higher literacy rate than all but two religious groups (Parsees and Jains) in thecountry. Together with the fact that Christians consistently have a higher male-female sex ratio, it is safe toassume that Christians not only get schooling but also some education. But the fact that most others—andcertainly most opinion leaders—pass through Christian institutions with no appreciable effect on theiroutlook is a sad commentary on the imparting of values in the Christian institutions. The first mover advantage saw all primary schools in the country being called convents, even in areaswhere there is little Christian presence. The name for school in both Tamil and Malayalam (both withsubstantial Christian populations) is Pallikudam, meaning Church Annex. However, this first moveradvantage has been squandered. There are many reasons for this, but suffice to say that we have lost ourmoorings. The schooling system—which socialises knowledge and social mores—was refined over theyears so that an illiterate five year old going into the system would understand Nobel Prize winningconcepts in less than ten years. However, the dominant soon struck back, and coopted the ‘new normal’. Even today, with ‘universaleducation’ the rich (privileged) are taught to command and consume and the middle class to manage andsave. The poor, as always, are taught to obey and sacrifice. In a commons framework, we would have acommons school system that encourages cooperation. The absence of such a system shows up in very manydifferent ways. The multi–tier schooling system teaches all children for 15 years that collaboration is badand greed is good—and then society wonders why adults are so selfish and so corrupt. It is a telling comment on the state of Christian schooling in this country (and indeed across the world)that there is little education imparted in these institutions. Christians are respected across the world formaking available a pedagogy that would take an illiterate of five and turn them into literates capable ofunderstanding Nobel prize winning concepts in ten years, and ‘masters’ of a subject in another five. That itwas done with social outcasts—the scheduled castes and the scheduled tribes—considered un-teachable bythe elite for centuries, and kept away from any learning, made the effort all the more laudable. In somecases dictionaries had to be complied and in a few cases even a script invented for the purpose. A Christian response to the right to education Anita Cheria and Edwin; 28 June 2012
  4. 4. But now we have followed the majoritarian exclusivist methods of sending out children from our schoolsin Class 8 if we suspect that they would not get above 80% in the Class 10 public exam. We ensure thatthose who make it, despite all odds (cooking, taking care of siblings, washing and cleaning the house andschool) are not admitted into the science stream in Class 11 or PUC. Instead of making our schools wherethe poor are welcomed, we treat them with disrespect, arrogant in the secure knowledge of our ‘selflessservice’. Money plays a part in getting government permissions, appointments, admissions, and lately, evenpromotions. Opportunities are more for those willing to pay. When our institutions mirror the mainstream (those opposing the inclusion aspects of the Right toEducation are all—without exception—products of English medium convents), then what makes us‘Christian’? Some institutions named after Christ have nothing Christian in them but their name boards.A new knowledge base for the new economy There is a global shift from an economy based on scarcity to one of surplus. The global institutions ofthe state and the market are yet to even know of the shift, let alone understand it. The global systems aretuned for appropriation and hoarding rather than distribution and sharing. The consequences are buttermountains and milk lakes in Europe being dumped in the sea while there is famine in Africa. In India it hasresulted in large-scale rotting of food in godowns, while about half the children are malnourished. The ‘mass’ nature of technology and business models, especially the internet and mobile telephony,opened up a lot of space. While practices of copyright and patenting continue for some kinds of knowledgesystems, creative commons licensing and a growing free software movement are now mainstream. TheWikipedia and its various forms show ample evidence of the benefits, wide acceptance and support forcommoning. Creative commons are an acknowledgement that knowledge creation is a social process.Freeing the airwaves, the use of free and open source software (FOSS) and hardware are good beginnings.The Government of India has a policy of open access for all publicly funded research. The open designmovement includes even highly technical and specialised spheres from computers to cars—from operatingsystems (Linux, Android) to hardware. Open discovery in health, brings down research costsimmeasurably. More universities—including ivy leaguers such as Princeton, Harvard and IGNOU—are putting out theircourse material and research papers in open access, using the power of the internet, ‘commoning’ evenmore knowledge without intermediaries or gatekeepers. Some even have free online courses—Udacity(Stanford), edX (Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT) and Coursera (Stanford,Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, and University of Michigan). Udacity encourages collaborativelearning among students, leading to cooperation by students in other spheres too. The commoners have responded by the freecycle and share economy, totally bypassing the market andmeasurement indices. ‘Volunteerism’ has increased tremendously over the years, contributing skills andcompetencies free of cost.RTE, another chance at redemption The RTE is rooted in the (non-enforceable by the court) directive principles of state policy, Articles 39and more explicitly in Article 45 of The Constitution Of India 1949: Provision for free and compulsory education for children The State shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years. This is the only article in the entire directive principles that has a timeframe. Though it says 10 years, thegovernment of India took 60 years to do so—a delay of half a century, and a reflection of the anti-educationbias that still exists. That the communal government argued that it did not have the resources is a woefulreminder as to the ingrained bias. No money for primary education but sufficient for starting new ‘centresof excellence’ such as IITs and IIMs. The Right to Education Act 2010 which provides for free and compulsory education to all children agedsix to fourteen (recommoning knowledge, tearing down the walls of caste and economic privilege) lay astrong foundation for a new commons-led society. These commons were fenced off for so long and so A Christian response to the right to education Anita Cheria and Edwin; 28 June 2012
  5. 5. effective was prohibition, that these are ‘new’ commons for the majority of women, Dalits, Adivasi andchildren. The example of the Roman Catholic Church which has gone from being an arch opponent of educationfor the masses to being one of its foremost promoters and practitioners (though its critics accuse it ofindoctrination rather than unfettered pursuit of knowledge) shows that the church can reinvent itself whennecessary. It needed the Renaissance, the Reformation and a vertical split followed by the Council of Trentfor it to realise the fundamental change in science and society. (Protestant Christians, in contrast, have ithardwired, with Martin Luther himself advocating for public education for all—so that all may read TheBible). The present times call for such a fundamental change in orientation of the schooling provided. The present schooling calls for education rooted in values—of ethics especially in the use of technology,as female foeticide starkly reminds us—but not in dogma of anti-abortion, ‘creationalism’, ‘intelligentdesign’ or messianic denouncement of other faiths, and even other denominations, as demonic as is oftenthe case. We would need to promote a more liberal-democratic, more inclusive (yes, including same sexmarriages), and more scientific, education. If the US Supreme Court can, with 9 of 12 Judges being RomanCatholic in a nation of Roman Catholic minority, and all of them being Christians, there is no reason why itcannot be done in India. Instead of denying the excesses of the pre-Reformation Church, the Inquisition (Roman Catholic orProtestant) or the brutality of the crusades, the puritans, and the internecine wars between and withindenominations, we should be able to acknowledge them, and confident in the progress made since then,challenge the same response from others regarding the caste system and the sex ratio. It would help usrectify the same errors within too! Instead, we have been demanding a portrayal of the Reformation, andpersecute those who expose miracle mongering by the church—with the full support of bishops who shouldknow better. It is to the eternal shame of the church that it endorsed a call for a separate law to try religiousleaders in India. In the mobilisation of superstitions, the church cannot be a winner. Recent history ofmobilisation based on superstitious resulted in the demolition of Babri Masjid, but its repercussions onChristians is still ongoing. Secular practice and thought—its promotion and propagation—is the onlysecurity that can be expected in the current milieu. One of the easiest to do would be to get back to the root principles. For starters, Christian collegesshould admit only those who have studied in government schools and have got 60% or less in thequalifying examinations, with a clear preference for those from the traditionally excluded sections such asthe Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. Then these students should be trained to becomeprofessionals and senior bureaucrats. The pre-university colleges should train them for entrance exams formedicine and engineering. Of course, there will not be 100% pass, let alone 100% distinction. But it wouldbe Christian education—putting the last first, creating value from the rejects of society, teaching them thatthey are valuable, precious in god’s—and our—eyes. The Right to Education (RTE) gives another opportunity for Christian education to become relevant inthis country, and step forward to meet the challenges of today—of promoting the fundamental rightsenshrined in the Indian Constitution—all of which are the expression of the highest Christian ideals,expressed in secular language. The secular expression of Christian values should not be a deterrent toChristian education promoting human rights and a scientific temper. Today we are at the threshold of another major global shift. The conditions of the previous shifts arewell in place—the imperial overreach, an information revolution, and an assertion of civil society. It is noteven a matter of if or when. The change is already underway. Building equitable, inclusive communitiesensures that all are a part of the nation, a part of humanity in this small, fragile planet. Secular educationwith Christian values (human rights in secular parlance) could be a way forward. Not competing withprivate commercial educational institutions. Not in dumbing down the schools or the students. Certainly notthe injured innocence and persecution of the Sanal Edamarkuruku variety that is threatening to become anepidemic. But in creating institutions of excellence for the traditionally excluded. Where value basededucation, not just schooling, is the norm. That is our mission. —oO(end of document)Oo— A Christian response to the right to education Anita Cheria and Edwin; 28 June 2012