The Politics of Value Education


“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.


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12 Responses to The Politics of Value Education

  1. True words sir…
    Experience and experiencing a thing will teach a lot and effective than what a text book can…
    taking that in to a note, its all about off line mode for books and the useless stuff inside them,,,Even the moral science book given by the school to children are HARDLY touched.

    On Indian Edu system, it’s waste of talking about it…
    I don’t know how many more diamonds gonna loose their shine.

  2. Amit Agarwal says:

    A true disciple of Jiddu will only do what Brian does and believes in. I too 100% agree with and practice the same. A wonderfully educating write up, Matheikal, this post of yours is indeed 🙂 Thanks a lot 🙂

  3. Raghuram Ekambaram says:


    To start, let us agree on one thing. The world is made up of too many different types of people. Therefore, what values students /children get is like throwing darts in the dark. No one knows whether and where any dart will stick.

    Not everyone can be like Brian Jenkins (I don’t even know whether having a million Brian Jenkins is good for society as a whole). But, to inculcate, on average, a reasonable level of social conscience (this is what is my definition of values) in the students, I believe we do need teaching of moral values. In fact I would even agree to moral “preaching” but with the proviso that the teacher “practices” what she preaches.

    “Teacher don’t preach what you don’t practice.”

    Of course, I unreservedly agree with you about this particular workshop: it was a motivated effort at indoctrination and I would shy far away from it. And, what is more discouraging is if anyone tried to balance this event with a workshop propogating a more universalist ethos, it would more likely have less patrons. This is the undiluted tragedy.


    • matheikal says:

      Raghuram, Jenkins is just one of the many good possibilities, as far as I see. I am of the view that there are many good ways of living and all of them are right. Values are highly personal in spite of their universality.

      As a teacher, one of the few good things I seem to be doing is that I don’t ever preach what I don’t actually practise in my life. I admit my limits and limitations openly. The students are intelligent enough to see through any teacher, anyway. That’s why I said in the blog that a good teacher can work miracles even in value education.

      You are absolutely right about the last point. There was, in fact, one speaker from the industrial sector who addressed the issue of values in a competitive world. He presented highly sensible and secular values. But there were few takers. Nobody even mentioned him in all the feedback sessions though I had written in my notebook that it was the best session. Of course, I desisted from speaking out any opinion anywhere for obvious reasons (I would have been singled out and my job would have been at stake!)

  4. Sunil Deepak says:

    I agree, it does not matter what adults say, it matters a lot what we actually do.

    Many years ago, in the corridor of a hospital, I saw a woman tell her daughter, “Don’t worry. we will tell her that we have an appointment and then we will go quickly”. They were going to visit an old lady who was admitted there.

    My thought was “Lady, you will be old too, sooner than when you imagine and I am sure that your young girl will remember this lesson, much more than all the lectures you give about loving your parents.”

    • matheikal says:

      Exactly, Sunil ji. You’ve hit the nail on the head with that simple example. The typical adult hypocrisy. It does a lot of harm to young minds, it confuses the young minds beyond the adult imagination. As a result, we get terribly skewed thinking and attitudes (cognitions) from the young generation. As time passes this skewedness will become a bigger problem.

  5. subhorup says:

    i see the discussion here strengthening what you have said in your post, and i couldnt agree more. i think the ‘parent’ generation is suffering from huge integrity problem, we believe in certain things but want people to think we believe in certain other things, and our behaviors have been hijacked by the neoliberal corporation’s marketing managers. how on earth is a child supposed to figure all of this out when he looks at his parents or at public figures. question mark. how on earth is a kid supposed to reconcile dasgupta madam’s joy at her new iThing while she teaches the sufi movement or her need to use oodles of make up and fashion bling while she delivers moral science or value education lectures. question mark.

    children learn by seeing things, by seeing adults, and figuring out why they do what they do. that is where all of value education comes from, and not from being told what to believe in. my worry is that we as a society are so convoluted and in conflict with our true selves, that what they are seeing and learning from is very confusing, in addition to being very inadequate for leading an integrated life.

    i have not read the hindu article in question, but back in the school where i i learned things, ideas like ‘trying new things,’ ‘developing genuine sensitivity to all life forms, ‘growing a sense of responsibility,’ and ‘speaking up’ were commonly thought of as values that we were being educated on. the method hardly matters as long as the right message gets across.

    i hope parents who are reading your blog will question what their being communicates to their children. i hope teachers will question whether their message is in keeping with their being. if we cannot impart a sense of dependability and integrity to the next generation, the least we can do is to keep our mouth shut. like dylan said, come mothers and fathers throughout the land, and don’t criticize what you can’t understand, your sons and your daughters are beyond your command, your old road is rapidly aging. please get out of the new one, f you can’t lend your hand for the times they are a-changing.

    i thought i would check if this comment goes through, hence the brevity. he he he. great reading, sir.

    • matheikal says:

      Subh, first of all let me assure you that your comments will be visible as soon as you post them hereafter. Once one comment gets across, WordPress is easy with the following ones!

      I couldn’t agree more with your views. Children make the significant adults around them (parents, teachers) their role models more indirectly than directly, more subconsciously than consciously. Hence what the adults do is of utmost importance in the formation of children’s attitudes and values. No amount of lecturing will change the attitudes and values learnt through observation and experience.

  6. Arwa says:

    Brian Jenkins is a white patriarchal man who runs the place like a Remanent of the British Raj. He has an extremely problematic zamindar attitude and has no accountability to anyone as he owns all the land. His staff are very afraid to speak up about the issues and are actually being harassed. Mr. Jenkins can’t stand being challenged and makes very inappropriate comments on women.

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