Indian Schools Need the Light of Inner Discipline, Not the Militarization of Conscience

This is the latest attempt to militarize consciousness and equate discipline with unreflective obedience. Credit: Reuters

Recent reports from the Prime Minister’s Office advising the Department of Human Resources Development to introduce elements of training in military schools and “patriotic” sentiments in mainstream schools have left me troubled. As a teacher engaged in a sustained manner in critical pedagogy and life affirming education, I believe this is another effort to militarize conscience and assimilate discipline into obedience. non-reflective. A debate on the merits of such a decision should not be limited to the government or its ideology; rather, it should focus on the socio-philosophical and pedagogical inquiry into the dynamics of discipline, freedom, creativity and education.

The militarization and the armor of external discipline

“8.45 entrance from the instructor, 8.52 summons from the instructor, 8.56 entry of the children and prayer, 9.00 the children go to their benches, 9.04 first slate, 9.08 end of dictation, 9.12 second slate, etc.”
– Michel Foucault, Discipline and punish: the birth of prison

We know that the culture of the school – with its ritualization of the uniform and assembly, the architecture and spatial location of the pupils, the transactions in the classroom and the curricular practices – is inseparable from the practice of the discipline. . In modern times, with the rise of state-centric societies, formal schools (rather than informal family ties) have become important and legitimate places of socialization. Schools are believed to train / discipline the child and help him overcome the barriers of “particular” bonding and embrace the “universal” values ​​of citizenship – how to relate to others, adhere to constitutional and legal principles , restrain purely selfish impulses and impulses, and merge with collective symbols and nationalist aspirations. In a way, as argued by Emile Durkheim, one of the main proponents of “moral education” in a highly differentiated / complex society, school education must build a bridge between the individual and the collective. , specific skills and a shared societal awareness, and restore “organic solidarity”; For this, as the master sociologist added, discipline should play an important role. It is through discipline and the teacher as moral guardian that the child learns a set of fundamental principles such as regularity, mastery of the body, adherence to the spirit of work and respect for collective standards.

Yes, this sort of discipline has its moral appeal; and many parents with some sort of civic religiosity want their children to be “disciplined” in this way – “polite”, “socially aware” and partly “altruistic”. Good schools discipline the child – this is the general belief. However, there are two points of caution. First, discipline should not mean unreflective obedience, nor uncritical acceptance of anything that is projected as “national” or “collective”, or even “sacred”.

Unsurprisingly, critical educators like Paulo Freire have repeatedly reminded us of this danger. If education becomes non-dialogical, if it is only a set of commandments from the almighty master; if it implies a passive acceptance of whatever is projected as “truth”, it destroys the creativity, understanding and self-confidence of the learner; it conditions the mind, reproduces the “culture of silence” and becomes incapable of questioning the principle of domination.

Military training – with its insane drills, strict commands, reckless hierarchy, and elaborate punishment techniques – often causes this intellectual numbness and boredom. Qualities like getting up early in the morning, fitness and cleanliness of the body are not bad. But, if the discipline arises from fear, passivity and the systematic destruction of all the faculties of the imagination, it does not really alter the inner world of the person. History has shown how otherwise “disciplined” forces behaved immorally in various situations. It suffices to look at the accounts of the victims of the war and of the “suspicious” citizens of the “disturbed” territories. Or noticed the body language of children from “disciplined” schools when they leave school premises? All the armor crumbles and you see bullying, aggression, ugly jokes and vulgar comments.

As Michel Foucault wanted to remind us, this type of discipline is an integral part of a society based on surveillance. With hierarchical observation, normalizing judgment, timetables and exams, discipline, says Foucault, establishes constant visibility over us, works the depths of mind and consciousness, and produces docile (but “productive) bodies. Who receive orders almost instinctively. Yes, from Jeremy Bentham’s “panopticon” to the latest CCTV camera, discipline technologies are everywhere – from military barracks to schools. It is not that this discourse of power is necessarily bad. After all, power produces knowledge; and each regime of truth has its own discourse of power. Yet, through Foucauldian eyes, we can see the other side of discipline – the “military dream of society”.

The light of inner discipline

“Education is not just about taking exams, getting a degree and a job, getting married and settling, but also being able to listen to the birds, to see the sky, to see the extraordinary beauty. of a tree, and the shape of the hills, and to feel with them, to be really, directly in contact with them.
– Jidu Krishnamurti

This critique of external discipline – or its degeneration into the intellectual silence of militarization – does not mean that I am arguing for nihilist anarchy. As a teacher inspired by Rabindranath Tagore and Jidu Krishnamurti, I have always dreamed of the art of the possible – nurturing a generation of learners with a spirit of inner discipline, creative freedom and intellectual clarity. Discipline in its true spirit, I believe, is not a child of fear; it emanates from light and love, clarity and awakening. And this is what differentiates true education from militarist training.

Imagine Tagore’s visualization of a “school of poets”. A teacher is not an army general; on the contrary, a teacher is a true companion engaged in an act of communion with the child. He or she creates an environment amidst the abundance and aesthetics of nature, allowing the learner to see the “surplus” within, to experience the connection with the cosmos, to understand the rhythm. of body and soul, to feel the natural beauty of simplicity, and experience the unity of productive work and creative play. With love and aesthetics, nature and community, art and science, Tagore sought to create a mind without fear and filled with compassion and universalism.

Likewise, Krishnamurti – the wanderer who believed that “the truth is a land without a path” – inspired educators and teachers. Schools, he has said repeatedly, cause fear – fear of failure, fear of being denied uniqueness because of constant comparison with others. Fear denies understanding and clarity. Further, the burden of bookish knowledge causes repetition and conditions the mind. When education truly becomes an awakening experience – seeing and feeling the incredible sunset, the top of a distant mountain, the laughter of a child – discipline becomes the rhythm of life, not something “outside.” That one wears because of the fear of authority, as Krishnamurti would have said.

I admit that the teacher needs extraordinary clarity, confidence and endurance to see the value of what Tagore and Krishnamurti considered to be inner discipline. Ironically, more often than not a classroom becomes a place of power and oversight; a teacher becomes a gentle dictator, establishing an artificial order becomes the primary concern, non-reflexive obedience becomes a virtue, and alternative thinking is seen as inherently problematic. Unsurprisingly, schools with huge walls, uniformed security guards, a CCTV camera in the principal’s room, the brilliant display of the topper list, and the highly orchestrated annual function ceremonies indicate the call of duty. mass militarization of consciousness; order and obey, work and perform, but don’t ask questions and try to be different!

Can educators unite?

“Without dialogue there is no communication, and without communication there can be no real education.
– Paulo Freire, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Without critical awareness, inner discipline, responsible freedom and creative awakening, we cannot create enlightened citizenship. Sometimes the absence of this life-giving education worries us. We are witnessing mob violence, herd mentality, sheer sensationalism, aggressiveness in behavior and utter helplessness in the face of market and media driven needs and simulations. Take, for example, the pathology of cricket nationalism. You can no longer appreciate the art of cricket, the spirit of a game; you have to reduce it to a war zone and stay unhappy if the “enemy” nations play better at cricket and beat you. We must support the war in the name of nationalism, aggression in the name of patriotism (remember Tagore’s last convocation speech in 1941, The crisis of civilization). This kind of “discipline” does not create a healthy society. And the widespread practice of education in India, characterized by rote learning, exam pressure and totally uncreative routine practices, has further contributed to the perpetuation of the pathology of normalcy. Under these circumstances, we need a new pedagogy – ideas derived from Freire and Foucault, Tagore and Krishnamurti. Higher authorities, however, believe the opposite. They seem to encourage more “discipline”, the militarization of consciousness and, therefore, intellectual silence.

Perhaps it is time for educators to come together to renew the spirit of critical pedagogy and life-sustaining education.

Avijit Pathak is a professor at the Center for the Study of Social Systems, JNU.

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