“I don’t believe in teaching values,” the Hindu [May 30, 2012] quotes Brian Jenkins who is the principal of Sholai School at Kodaikanal and a disciple of J. Krishnamurthy. “It is a pompous adult attitude, like an old chestnut. My idea of education is about applications and trying new things. It is not just being sentimental but developing genuine sensitivity to all life forms. It’s also a lot about growing a sense of responsibility by speaking up.”
Jenkins’ opinion caught my attention especially because I have just returned to Delhi after attending a so-called workshop in Kochi on teaching of values to students. [I say ‘so-called’ because it was just a seminar, and not a workshop, where people came and lectured us one after the other for three days. Even the “demo class based on Human Excellence Syllabus” was too uninspiring to be emulated by any teacher.]
The workshop was meant to teach the 120-odd participating teachers from all over the country about the new syllabus and textbook designed by a particular educational trust. One of the speakers said explicitly that they had introduced the term ‘human excellence’ just to avoid the clichéd phrases like ‘moral science’ and ‘value education’ both of which will evoke negative feelings in students. So it was just the old wine in a new bottle.
Old wine is supposed to be better than new ones. Values are certainly necessary for any human being. But the question is whether they can be taught in a classroom using a textbook. I wouldn’t have objected to that too because a good textbook and a good teacher can work miracles even with values. My problem was that the textbook and its approach as well as the lectures delivered in the workshop seemed regressive. They all sought to take the students back to the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Gita.
Values can be taught using various methods including the stories from the country’s epics and ancient scriptures. My problem was not with the use of those, but with the attitude behind the use. Most speakers suggested explicitly or subtly that India’s culture and wealth were constantly under threat from the various invaders and colonisers. Sometimes the political inclinations of the speakers were more than explicit. Two of the speakers went out of their way to prove that the Congress was just another dynasty like the ancient royal dynasties that ruled us. Gandhi was the pet target of two speakers. Sardar Patel was projected as a victim-hero who was betrayed by Gandhi as the latter was too fond of Nehru. Two of the speakers mentioned Narendra Modi as the best leader today, the only leader who could bring prosperity to the country. Modi was eulogised also for starting a children’s university in Gandhinagar with the aim of teaching the 16 samskaras on child rearing [whatever that means].
What value did I, as a participating teacher, learn from the workshop? I learnt that if you want to propagate your political ideology you may organise a workshop or a seminar and try your best to indoctrinate the participants.
My experience as a teacher, especially in the last eleven years in a residential school, has taught me that values are learnt by children every moment by watching their elders. The very personality of the teacher is the student’s textbook in moral education. The parents play an even greater role in moulding the moral attitudes and values of the children. Every adult who interacts with children regularly leaves a lasting imprint on the children’s psyche. No child will learn greater values than the ones revealed by the society made up by the adults in a child’s surrounding.
That brings me back to Jenkins with whose words I started this blog. It is better to let children grow doing things, whetting their curiosity, sharpening their eagerness to learn and do… Values will follow just as the fish grow in a river.