Power, Authority & Education
Category : COVER STORY
Author : Fasiha Shaikh

“The school is fundamentally an institution erected by society to do a certain specific work- to exercise a certain specific function in maintaining the life and advancing the welfare of society. The educational system which does not recognize that this fact entails upon it an ethical responsibility is derelict and a defaulter.” John Dewey

“The school is fundamentally an institution erected by society to do a certain specific work- to exercise a certain specific function in maintaining the life and advancing the welfare of society. The educational system which does not recognize that this fact entails upon it an ethical responsibility is derelict and a defaulter. It is not doing what it was called into existence to do, and what it pretends to do.” John Dewey
Introduction
When the seemingly never-ending cycle of examinations, tutoring and standardized tests bears little fruit, more people begin to consider the futility of the current order. It is difficult to overturn this order because of the numerous parties with vested interests within the education system as it is. The state of education right now is like a stream of exploitation where everyone gets to dirty their hands, the long-term effects of which are being realized every day.

Although not mutually exclusive, the crises at hand can be roughly categorized into
a) issues caused by the schooling system and
b) issues overlooked by it.

In a developing country like India, the primary concern naturally tends to access/democratization and quality of education. The pressing nature of these concerns overrides the larger questions of pedagogy and educational design. But according to Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, pedagogy is inseparable from knowledge, and that education is only legitimate if it’s in connection to the reality of those engaging with it.

The Banking Concept

In his seminal work, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, he encapsulates the egregiousness of traditional teaching methods through ‘the banking concept’ in which “the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits.” There is no room for dialogue, creative expression or critical thought, the repercussions of which are manifest in the deterioration of social and democratic order.

The modern school and classroom mirror the Foucauldian Panopticon as a structure of surveillance and prison-like arrangement, where “power relations, based on discipline and subjectification, regulate and reshape bodies, actions, attitudes, and daily behaviour patterns” of students. (Foucault, 1995)

It is alarming how little separates an environment meant for knowledge, development and growth from a military camp or a prison: uniformity, depersonalization, assembly, and above all, the rewarding of docility and punishment of any challenge to authority.

Effect On Society

The nationalist agenda is driven by groupthink. Hyperpolarization is a great example of the consequences of a culture that undermines critical thought. Children are asked to toe the line and the ones that don’t are considered maladjusted. Maladjusted to what? In a capitalist society, work comes before play, play happens in order to work. Children are expected to assume the tediousness of capitalistic structures from the moment they are enrolled in school. All it does is perpetuate learned helplessness, to be a cog in the machine. The safest way to exist is to do as told, and ask no questions.

Schools have always shaped the way we respond to power, bleeding into how the governed treat the government or the proletariat treat the bourgeoisie, as Freire distinguishes between the oppressed and the oppressor.
An education that does not awaken the consciousness and reality of the oppressed will uphold the toxic authoritarian dynamics in schools and classrooms that are only magnified and reproduced in the real world.

Lessons from the Stanford Prison Experiment

In 1971, Phillip Zimbardo a Professor at Stanford University ran a highly contentious experiment asking students to role-play as prisoners or prison guards to explore the outcome of roles and labels in a simulated prison environment.
Zimbardo’s schemes resulted in fast failure, and the findings of his experiment were considered far from legitimate. But the effect on the behaviour of the experiment’s participants from its implied sense of impunity for the guards and requirement to “strip away the individuality” of the “prisoners” was alarming.

The prison-like rituals from the method of transporting the participants to the carceral facility to the assignments and punitive measures presented some of the following results:
a) Any resistance to the cruelty or uselessness of the system was belittled as shocking and unnatural as if resistance and not the abuse of power is morally incorrect.
b) The prisoners couldn’t seem to advocate for themselves, couldn’t articulate their negative experiences or downplay to authority figures the actual misery of their experience
c) The lines between fear and respect blurred. The assumption that all power was legitimized depending on its hierarchical position.
d) Abuse of power comes as no surprise.
The experiment had no mechanism for accountability and justice. The result was pure chaos.

Solutions or Alternatives

The road to revolution, according to Freire, hinges on dialogue. “The starting point for organizing the program of content for education or political action must be the present, existential, concrete situation, reflecting the aspirations of the people.” He suggests problem-posing education as an alternative that does away with the polarity of a student-teacher dynamic and is in complete accordance with the urgent social, political and economic needs of the world around us.

The urgent alternative is to flip the dynamic on its head. To empower students to think beyond themselves, to be empathetic first. Decentralize the classroom. The successful contribution of Dalit, Adivasi, and Muslim educators to the curricula implemented in those communities is an example of this decentralization and the further need for it. The teacher and student, as Freire suggests, both learn from each other. We need to reimagine a student-centric, constructivist pedagogy, by not merely improving upon but radically redefining education through the challenges of the present world.

The prison-like rituals from the method of transporting the participants to the carceral facility to the assignments and punitive measures presented some of the following results:
a) Any resistance to the cruelty or uselessness of the system was belittled as shocking and unnatural as if resistance and not the abuse of power is morally incorrect.
b) The prisoners couldn’t seem to advocate for themselves, couldn’t articulate their negative experiences or downplay to authority figures the actual misery of their experience
c) The lines between fear and respect blurred. The assumption that all power was legitimized depending on its hierarchical position.
d) Abuse of power comes as no surprise.
The experiment had no mechanism for accountability and justice. The result was pure chaos.

Ahadith on Seeking Knowledge

Anas ibn Malik, RadhiAllahu Anhu, reported:
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said:
Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim.
Source: Sunan Ibn Majah 224, Grade: Sahih

Narrated `Abdullah:
Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “Do not wish to be like anyone, except in two cases: (1) A man whom Allah has given wealth and he spends it righteously. (2) A man whom Allah has given wisdom and he acts according to it and teaches it to others.”
Source: Sahih al-Bukhari 7141

Abu Huraira, RadhiAllahu Anhu, reported: The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said
Whoever travels a path in search of knowledge, Allah will make easy for him a path to Paradise. People do not gather in the houses of Allah, reciting the book of Allah and studying it together, but that tranquility will descend upon them, mercy will cover them, angels will surround them, and Allah will mention them to those near him.

Source: Sahih Muslim 2699, Grade: Sahih

Abu Darda, RadhiAllahu Anhu, reported: The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said
Verily, the angels lower their wings for the seeker of knowledge. The inhabitants of the heavens and earth, even the fish in the depths of the water, seek forgiveness for the scholar. The virtue of the scholar over the worshiper is like the superiority of the moon over the stars. The scholars are the inheritors of the Prophets. They do not leave behind gold or silver coins, but rather they leave behind knowledge. Whoever has taken hold of it has been given an abundant share.
Source: Sunan Abi Dawud 3641, Grade: Sahih

Verses from the Quran on Seeking Knowledge and the Importance of Reading
“God will exalt those of you who believe and those who have knowledge to high degrees” (58:11),

“Proclaim! (or read!) in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who created – Created man, out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood: Proclaim! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful, He Who taught (the use of) the pen, Taught man that which he knew not” [Quran, 96:1-5].
“…they could devote themselves to studies in religion, and admonish the people when they return to them, – that thus they (may learn) to guard themselves (against evil)” [Quran, 9:122].
Believers, when you are told: “Make room for one another in your assemblies,” then make room; Allah will bestow amplitude on you.26 And when it is said: “Rise up,” then rise up; Allah will raise to high ranks those of you who believe and are endowed with knowledge. Allah is well aware of all that you do.” (58:11)

1 Comment

  1. Dr Shazia Khan

    Excellent suggestions to revamp our education system..and we do see the change coming .

    Reply

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