A Pedagogue's Romance Reflections on Schooling

Item Code: IDK129
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Author: Krishna Kumar
Edition: 2008
ISBN: 0195693167
Pages: 150
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.5" X 6.5"
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Book Description

How to write about education has always seemed to me a greater problem than what to write. I have been convinced ever since I started writing that the real challenge is to make the reader more demanding. Generalized writing about education inevitably takes the form of demagogic criticism. It is marked by supreme withdrawal from responsibility and freedom from the awareness of being an accomplice. That kind of writing always ends by providing great solutions too, for who doesn't have solutions to offer for India's educational problems?

Unless one gets into the daily details of education, there is hardly any point adding to the vast ocean of writing already available, especially in the form of reports. By details I mean what goes on inside education-inside the school gates and in classrooms, inside offices where decisions are taken or avoided, in training colleges, inside the covers of textbooks, and inside the vast, clandestine apparatus of the public examination system. It is this inner world of education that has always interested me, and I have been intrigued by its absence in Indian writing on education. There are exceptions, of course, especially now when a handful of young scholars have assiduously peeped inside what Michael Apple correctly called the 'black box', alluding to the everyday disaster that institutionalized education symptomizes in many parts of the world.

The selection of shorter essays this book offers is not meant to be of the scholarly kind. These pieces represent my desire to address the general reader who worries about education and wants to understand why it is so bad. From the point of view of this reader, it is truly puzzling that something with such incredible potential should remain so stuck and moribund. The puzzle can be solved if we agree to distinguish between education as a concept and education as a system. When we engage with the concept or idea of education, we feel emotionally aroused, for education does evoke the prospect of a better, improved life in the future. Philosophers since the Buddha and Plato have offered to humanity a vision of how or what kind of education can build and sustain a good society. Writing on the idea of education in this vein adds precious little to the already existing literature unless we spare some thought for the system of education as we find it today, having evolved to its present form since the middle of the nineteenth century (I have traced some facets of this story in my study of colonialist and nationalist ideas, Political Agenda of Education). To think about the system is deceptively easy, for it is all around us and look so obviously poor and unreformed to most of us whose children are seeking admission to a nursery or college, or are about to face an examination. To analyse these chores in a precise manner, and at the same time stay in touch with the idea of education is what I find challenging whenever I sit down to write.

Any attempt to meet this challenge makes one instantly aware that children's daily educational experience is not entirely the school's or the teacher's doing. There is a world surrounding the school which enters it in ways which are hardly subtle, yet it is easy to ignore them when we focus attention on schools and teachers. The world I am referring to constitutes powerful agencies which relentlessly shape the child's mind and behaviour. These agencies are so diverse and omnipresent that we can hardly enumerate them all. Where would you start and how would you distinguish? Television, for example, is an obvious choice among the agencies which exercise a great of influence on our children, but we can hardly separate television from what it shows, whether it is a scene from the parliament, a battleground in some remote country, or the advertisement of a new product. All such material shapes our children's perceptions and state of mind. Television edits reality, in highly problematic ways, but the character of the reality cannot be denied. Childhood is a stage of life when receptivity is strong and awareness is weak. The little child ends up engaging with everything, real or virtual, without distinction. It is customary and correct to call childhood a formative period of life, but this label seldom reminds us that the effort schools and teachers consciously make to educate children is intersected every evening by all that happens in the wider world and gets represented by the media. This uncanny Canadian economist-philosopher, Harold Innis, saw the technology of communication used in any period of human history as a primary force, shaping economic and cultural choices and the social order itself. The pervasive influence of communication technologies on how we think about learning and education has not been fully recognized. Some people occasionally worry about television and the Internet these days, but most of the time we bow to the inevitability of technological progress. The role that orally transmitted memory plays in designing our perceptions of the past and the future is rarely taken into account when we judge how well the system of education is doing it terms of whatever it is trying to do. To reconstruct the world differently with the help of one's imagination is regarded as a somewhat unacademic act.

The shorter writings collected here have been chosen randomly to encapsulate my professional concerns about education. In our society, education is not regarded as a serious profession. Teaching, which comprises the heart of education, has a poor status, especially if you teach children as opposed to youth. The poverty of our system of education has everything to do with the powerful value system which motivates both society and state to deny professional status to the teacher of young children. The fact that more women are now opting for school teaching compounds the problem; women suffer from a major cultural bias to begin with. But it not just the teacher of young children who has low professional status; those who train teachers fare no better. Indeed, teacher training can be quite accurately described as the centre of India's educational depression. In an ethos which gives increasingly greater priority to material power, how teaching can gain at least some of the value it deserves, is a big question. For us in India, the larger question of finding adequate funds for education and investing energy and money in reforms is equally important.

These questions are so intricately intertwined with socio-economic and cultural conditions that all answers look academically unsatisfactory. The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) recently mobilized an unprecedentedly widespread interest across the country to prepare the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) (2005) which attempts to answer a good number of common questions on desirable options. This consensus document has aroused considerable curiosity. Even as the familiar shadows of bureaucratization in the public system and commercialization in the private realm lengthen, we must continue to exercise our right to imagine a different and better system of education. I have chosen to call this book A Pedagogue's Romance because only romance looks capable of freeing us to imagine radical reforms. I could have called this book a teacher's romance, but teachers too, like planners, seldom have the time to imagine. Romance has been defined as a genre which allows us to move away from reality with the force of love and chivalrous concerns. The first set of essays will enable the reader to see a point of my 'pedagogy of hope', to borrow a phrase from Paulo Freire. My analysis of his legacy forms the only lengthy piece in the opening section, all others being memoirs or sketches of life with the young. The second section deals with the world which surrounds the school and imposes constraints on the potential of education, some of these constraints are historical, others are of a legal or political kind. How the system of education can soften these constraints after mindfully acknowledging their force is the organizing mood of the last section. My hope is that the selection I have made will interest solution-seekers as much as the reflective reader.

From the Jacket

The Indian educational system impacts all of us directly or indirectly at various points in our lives. We are often critical and inevitably have solution to offer for India's educational woes. In this insightful and interesting collection, a noted educationist takes us beyond generalizations into what he calls the 'inner world of education'. We go inside schools and classrooms, into training institutes, and textbooks and beyond, and delve into the public examination process, to analytically view the system as well as the concept of education. At the same time, Krishna Kumar alerts us to the wider cultural, economic, and technological factors that influence both the system and its key participants-students and teachers.

Full of creative ideas, this selection of the author's shorter essays explores a wide range of issues and concerns. Self-audit for schools to judge how they use energy and water, inclusion of crafts in the curriculum, the value of quiet observation in nature study, and the need to re-conceptualize girls' education are among the many ideas offered in this reflective book. Its accessible style and subtle passion will attract decision-makers and activists as well as parents, teacher trainers, educationists, and the students themselves.

Krishna Kumar has been a Professor and Head of the Central Institute of Education, University of Delhi. At present, he is Director of National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), New Delhi. His earlier books include Political Agenda of Education, What is Worth Teaching, The Child's Language and the Teacher, Prejudice and Pride, and Battle for Peace. Many of Professor Kumar's books are in Hindi, including collections of short stories and essays. He also writes for children.

Excerpts from the Book

'Educational recovery crucially depends on the restoration of our faith in teachers…[We]…ignore the real world of the… classroom where living children arrive from homes which are part of the contemporary world… The teacher alternates her role all day negotiate the world through her children, serving alternates her role all day to negotiate the world through her children, serving as healer, nurse, parent, police…

Computers in children's education…(are) no substitute for interacting with the environment and the objects in it…we cannot compare the experience of unguided play or the pursuit of an interest in nature… The world of childhood does shrink when knowledge takes the shape of a monitor.'

'Every innovation challenges the existing state of power relations, and these power relations are of a kind that cannot be overcome merely by change of vocabulary…We cannot talk about the teacher being empowered unless those placed above the teacher lose some of their power.

'The overwhelming majority of the dropouts are village children, but the system victimizes the urban no less, by insisting that the same shoe must fit all… Not just our schools, even the best of our colleges are committed to the… ideal of an all-rounder. Eccentric devotion to a single pursuit…is just not accepted.'


Acknowledgements ix
1A Pedagogue's Romance3
2Teaching Peace10
3Freire's Legacy15
4A Child's Swaraj28
5Remembering Earthworms33
6Let Us All Blame the Teacher37
7Future Girls42
8Democracy Without Democrats?49
9A Memory of Coming to Life58
10Understanding Women68
11Adolescent India72
12The New Politics of Education79
13Computers and Children91
14Crafts at School 97
15The Woman with a Broom110
16Watching as Work116
17Lotus Syndrome120
18Metaphors of Innovation124
19Learning from Iqbal129
20Green Schools in a Greying World 133
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