On a journey to find peace among ourselves, we must first trace the root of the problem
A two-day gathering focusing on peace education explored the subject. Diversity of the panel members and audience ensured that quality questions were raised.
Any form of exclusion is violence, stated a panellist. The idea, at school, is to enable a sense of belonging, to blur the line between ‘us’ and ‘them’, said another. To what extent is this possible, one wonders, especially given that there is so much of ‘us’ and ‘them’ the society incessantly bombards a child with. The ‘us’ and ‘them’ of religion, of caste, of status, of nationality and more. A child has no role in any of these and adults have little clarity on.
An informal environment is a must — children must be free to ask questions. A panellist, in a separate session, asked whether there was any point in children having the space to question, when their questions were neither deliberated upon nor responded to. This is prevalent more in schools which like to believe that they are alternative schools, but perhaps end up subjecting their children to a poorer environment.
The deliberations also touched upon freedom. One stark point which was raised was that when one taught entirely based on the textbook, the question of freedom of speech did not arise. The topic ‘freedom’, elucidated pertinent responses from the audience. Do we need to first have freedom in staff rooms before we have freedom in classrooms? If speech is free can silence also be free?
Caste too made its way into the discussions. Classrooms, in most of our schools, adhere to our caste system. Teachers belong to the proverbial upper castes while children bear the brunt. This is a strong point but reflects the teacher-centred classrooms we have, which espouse silence, and wherein is writ the teacher runs supreme. One of the panel members questioned why schools, including those claiming to be liberal refrain from discussing caste.
Our approaches, of late, have not helped. We have schools which levy fines on children for speaking their native language. Our sports have become far more aggressive; listening to cricket commentary for a short time will bring out lines in the nature of ‘shot like a bullet’ and ‘thrashed the bowler’. The scenario has changed to such an extent that what was previously the Education Ministry is now the Human Resources Ministry; in other words we are producing raw material for the market.
On the way ahead, one speaker spoke on two possible avenues which could synthesise a non-violent brain; early childhood nurturing and mindful meditation. Another pointed to the need to have inner peace before expecting outer peace. A third speaker said that while we live in an imperfect world and face complex situations, we strive for perfect solutions. We need to work towards approximate and imperfect solutions — those that are attainable and will have us at peace.
First published by The Hindu