Mainstream, VOL LII, No 44, October 25, 2014
Towards a New Education Policy
Friday 24 October 2014
by Murzban Jal
All educational work in the field in the Soviet Republic of Workers and Peasants, in the field of political education in general and in the field of art in particular, should be imbued with the spirit of the class struggle being waged by the proletariat for the successful achievement of the aims of the dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e. the overthrow of the bourgeois, the abolition of all classes, and the elimination of all forms of exploitation of man by man.
— V.I. Lenin
Everybody is already cultured.
— Antonio Gramsci
Schools are prison houses.
— Ivan Ilich
Why is the educational system so rarely subjugated to radical criticism?
— Pierre Bourdieu
On Fascist Techno-clerics
History in India, it seems, follows a circular and repetitive path. Quite recently the MHRD Ministry asked for people’s suggestions in formulating a New Education Policy for India. This seems like a joke that has turned into a tragedy and a tragedy that has turned into a joke. And considering that the ruling political establishment, after declaring a million times over that India is a “Hindu Rashtra”, is once again attempting to declare this jocular-tragedy for the million and one time, one needs to think aloud: is this New Education Policy anything to do with their terrible fascist ambition of turning secular and democratic India into a fascist state? And considering that this same establishment has discovered the glorious wisdom of the even more glorious Indian past, one wonders what the people of India need to learn and what this New Education Policy will do. Or maybe since it is felt that wisdom (both ancient and modern) is lost, one will have to contact the lost-and-found department in some State bureaucracy to formulate a New Education Policy.
But to this dilemma, it is modern capitalism that comes to the rescue of this tragicomic New Education Policy, not to forget also to the service of India’s not-so-glorious glorious past and the ruling political establishment. At one point one has capitalism creating the literal lust for commodities and the accumulation of capital which needs modern science and technology. And for that education as technocratic education is necessary. What one produces from these massive industries of education are technocrats and clerks or what one may call “techno-clerks” whose sole role is producing commodities and rendering unnecessary real philosophical and scientific thinking.
Now considering that the new political order in India is not merely going to mimic the old soft-Hindutva political order of Atal Behari Vijpayee, but going to create a totalitarian administrative neo-liberal state that obliterates all dissent (built on the models of Zionist Israel and the Islamic Republic of Iran), one needs to think and think quickly what the MHRD is planning to do with education. What would this Ministry do? Would it neatly divide society into two halves: on the one side these strange techno-clerks along with the seekers of ancient wisdom and on the other side large parts of the Indian population that will be put under the jackboots of these fascist techno-clerics? Thus would we have not merely the rule of the techno-clerks but the governance of techno-clerics like in contemporary Iran? It must be noted that both the RSS and Iranian mullahs share a very strong ideological bondage—both are fiercely anti-secularist and both imagine that messianic clerks will rescue humanity. But both are primarily products of industrial capitalism whose violence they seek to justify and promote. Both are advocates of symbolic violence. And both, of course, love Adolf Hitler.
Need of a Subaltern Indian Renaissance
The rather sad state of affairs lies in the fact that the Indian elites, right from the time of independence, were seduced by capitalism which drew the Indian populace into misery and poverty. The recent triumph of the Indian fascists lies in the brute fact of capitalism, the misery that it produced and the dystopian hopes that it generates. And since the Indian fascists have transformed this misery and dystopia into hysteria, one can only expect hysterical misery in India.
At the level of the educational superstructure this sad state of hysterical miserable affairs in India lies in the fact that the Indian Renaissance and Enlightenment have not been understood, forget them being realised. And because the Indian Renaissance and Enlightenment were not understood and because India’s modern education system grew from the cranium of the Orientalists that was realised in the British colonial policy that divided the population of India into warring religious groups: Hindu, Muslim, Christians, etc., and also because the colonial census of 1872 further classified the people of India in terms of caste, the very idea of “Indian people” and consequently “Indian people’s education” remained only on paper. Because of these two flaws that repressed the development of an “Indian people’s education system” and also because the elites managed to control education where education (at least since the last two decades) has been treated merely as a commodity and not a national necessity, the Indian population was further divided into two large economic groups: the educated elites (with the technocrats serving the global IT sector) and the undereducated (and even totally illiterate) subaltern masses.
What further happened in the last two decades was that the humanities and the social sciences were devalued and a great hype was created in favour of the technical sciences. What then happened was a new caste system that evolved where we got (as Gopal Guru had informed us) “theoretical Brahmans” (the doctors, technicians, natural scientists) and the “empirical Shudras” (the practitioners of humanities and the social sciences). The working populace would be the ati-Shudras—completely out of sight from national imagination. The modern education system, with its exam-centric orientation, would not give knowledge or decrease class and caste differences (something which Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze think it to be), but on the contrary would reproduce the class nature of society (as Pierre Bourdieu rightly theorised). Education in this sense would be a sense of enslavement. It would continuously produce and reproduce hierarchies and power structures. One here recalls Bourdieu:
The School, this privileged instrument of the bourgeois sociodicy which confers on the privileged the supreme privilege of not seeing themselves as privileged, manages the more easily to convince the disinherited that they owe their scholastic and social destiny to their lack of gifts or merits, because in matters of culture absolute dispossession excludes awareness of being dispossessed.1
What one suggests is that a complete inversion and overhauling of education needs being done with the idea of toiling humanity and the Indian people kept at the centre of its national educational programme. This prog-ramme starts from primary education where it develops a detailed programme for school education where not only are the above stated divisions totally obliterated, but also where a humanist theory of education is developed where not only are the natural and social sciences united, but also where aesthetics (from drama, painting and poetry to music) and ethics play a fundamental role in education.
Yet education does not exist by itself, just as “development” does not exist by itself. It has as its core humanity and thus those who talk of “development” without mentioning that this “development” that the Indian state is now talking of is only brutal capitalist development (where one has what David Harvey calls “accumulation through dispossession” that is destroying humanity), one is only talking through the air. Instead of this airy talk one has to put forward an anti-capitalist programme that is both real and practical. One has to take a look back at the first years of India’s independence and one sees not the neo-liberal policies that the state is now harping on, but something quite different where the welfare state envisioned a dire need for universal education and health for all in India. But this “all” fell to the miseries of capitalism and an aborted independence. They got neither education nor health.
And since this “all” is now to be controlled by mega-corporations, one begins by quoting Rabindranath Tagore (which recently has been recalled by Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze): “the imposing tower of misery which today rests on the heart of India has its sole foundation in the absence of education”.2 To convert this absence of education residing in the tower of misery to the possibilities and necessities of universal education is the main point of this document. Yet, we must state, right at the beginning, our philosophy of education is not uncritical. It does not borrow blindly from the ideologies of education set forth by the industrialised society.
The leitmotiv of making a document of people’s education policy is based on under-standing the tension and opposition between the idea of education as instruction and education as cultivation of humanity as humanity. The idea of the historicisation and humanisation of knowledge is the essence of this education programme. The triad of science, philosophy and the arts serves as the methodological basis of this Educational Programme. According to this programme, by “science” one means the exploration and understanding of the laws governing nature and society,3 by “philosophy” one means the method of emancipatory knowing where the proletariat educates its class instincts and by “arts” one means the study of the sublime and beautiful. To create the sublime feeling of enthusiasm is the main part of this programme.
It is thus that we claim that a people’s education document is based on the understan-ding of education as cultivation of the human mind.4 But it is not merely the cultivation of the mind that is important, but the cultivation of humanity as humanity. Its starting point is philosophical: its main questions are: “what can humanity know?”, “what can humanity do?”, “what can humanity hope for?”5 and “how can free humanity be truly possible?” The modern principles of liberty, equality and fraternity are its guiding principles. Challenging educational orthodoxy is its leitmotiv. De-schooling society is its essence, since schools have become the prison-houses and panoptic systems that imprison young minds. To render the necessity of critical thinking is its motto. Philosophy, science and aesthetics are its three basic epistemological components. Perception, under-standing and reason along with feeling, willing and desiring are its ontological components. As Marx had once said, let us produce according to the laws of beauty.6 The critique of human alienation and the commoditisation of education are its important concerns. Not only the critique of alienation in modern capitalist India, but also the critique of alienation in traditional caste-based society, combined with alienation in centres of learning (schools, colleges and universities) shall be forms of communist programmatic concerns.
The following points are important in the scientific, philosophising and aestheticisation of education:
1. Education as cultivation of humanity is the culmination of the Subaltern Indian Renaissance. But this Indian Renaissance is a Renaissance “from below”. It therefore follows the subaltern logic of class struggle. It studies humanity as humanity (free from superstitions, free from semi-feudal values, free from caste and patriarchy, free from communal hatred, free from scarcity and want and free from the capitalism mode of production). As the culmination of the Indian Renaissance “from below”, it talks of a New Humanism for India. Cultural transformation is the main point in this programme of Communist New Humanism.
2. It follows the research methodology of historical dialectics where science is seen as a unified science. Here neither are the different branches of the social sciences split from one another, nor are the natural sciences split from the social sciences. It sees the unity of the natural and the social sciences since it sees the unity of nature and society. Its method is human natural science also known as the natural science of humanity,7 where social history as natural history8 is marked as its leitmotiv. By science we do not mean a form of scientism or positivism. Instead we have something very different:
History itself is a real part of natural history—of nature developing into humanity. Natural science will in time incorporate into itself the science of humanity, just as the science of humanity will incorporate into itself natural science: there will be one science.9
Science here, in the very Marxist humanist sense, does not merely study facts, but as human natural sciences unites facts and ethics. It always sees the human basis of facts. The humanisation and naturalisation of knowledge and education is thus its philosophical premise. What human natural science does is that it critiques the dominant methods of education that have been borrowed from colonialism. The critique of Eurocentrism (the method that claims that the West is inherently endowed with reason, whilst the rest of the world can only develop on borrowed European and American methods, a model that is the basis of the neo-liberal political economy of globalisation (a political economy which the new establishment strongly believes in), and the critique of the colonisation of education find its place in this process of the humanisation of education. Thus this critique of Eurocentrism is also coupled with the critique of the indigenous colonisation (known as “Brah-manisation”) of education. The New Indian Rena-issance finds two sites of the colonisation of the Indian mind: Eurocentrism and Brahmanism. Whilst we involve the method of humanisation of knowledge, we also set up different interventions within the domain of a general theory of humanist education where Schiller’s On the Aesthetic Education of Humanity, the Hegelian dialectical method, the Marxist critique of capitalism, Jotiba Phule’s theory and praxis of “manuski” (humanist) education, along with B.R. Ambedkar’s programme of the annihilation of caste (and semi-feudal values) is taken as its motif. Thus the best that the world education has to offer shall be taken.
3. With these principles of the New Indian Renaissance and human natural science, the role of education as a weapon that grips the masses comes up. Education as the cultivation of the human mind and as the study of knowledge links this scientific enterprise with developing societies. The critique of pre-capitalist forms of exploitation (wrongly christened “Indian feudalism”) and neo-liberalism finds its place here. A rethinking of Indian history from the perspective of the Asiatic mode of production where caste, communal-fascism and patriarchy along with economic and cultural under-development is undertaken in the production of the Renaissance “from below”. The philosophical and scientific foundations of the annihilation of caste, communal antagonisms and patriarchy are laid in this paradigm of the New Indian Renaissance.
4. From this we deduce the political economy of underdevelopment where the centre and periphery of globalised capitalism’s accumulation of wealth is scientifically critiqued. Both the economic and cultural dependency of India on borrowed colonial models is reviewed.
5. This critique of the colonisation of the mind is not based on the ideology of abstract intellectualism. Instead it unites the intellect and will, thinking and feeling. It is consequently based on what is now being called “synesthesia” or the “union of the senses”. The leitmotiv of this project of synesthesia is philosophical, in the sense it will seek the groundwork of knowledge based on the question: “how is free humanity possible?” It thus seeks the groundwork for the possibilities of free humanity. What we mean by “education” is consequently based on the above premises. G.W.F. Hegel’s theory of dialectical logic, Marx’s critique of alienation and his reworking of Ludwig Feuerbach’s idea of “species being”, Gramsci’s theory the organic intellectual, J.P. Naik’s theory of understanding education as a Revolution with a Revolution, Ivan Illich’s idea of de-schooling society and Paulo Friere and Pierre Bourdieu’s ideas of bourgeois education as cultural subjugation shall be the guiding principles of a people’s education policy. The idea of challenging the educational orthodoxy is the leitmotiv of this programme.
6. Understanding this challenging of the educational orthodoxy impels us to articulate the role played by material labour in this New Cultural Transformation. In this materialist ontology of labour, a different understanding of India’s social history is seen where the Asiatic mode of production is articulated along with the traditional Asian craft and guild system from an anti-Brahmanical perspective. In this critique of Brahmanism one documents the labour movement in India. One also documents how the false division of people as pure and clean (the Brahmans) and unclean and impure (the Shudras), along with the false construction of Brahmanical rituals as “spiritual sciences” and the consequent spurious division of the “spiritual sciences” and “indigenous technical-material sciences”, was made since Shankara’s counter-revolution against Buddhism in 8th century CE. What happens in this divided world is that rituals and mantras were declared true, whilst material sciences were declared false. This division between sacred and the profane also led to the declaration that the latter were false and also that the castes practising them were polluted and unclean. The Brahman/Shudra hostility based on the purity/pollution opposition was institutionalised since this counterrevolution. Somewhere I had said the following:
A note on Ambedkar’s reading of the ‘Hindu’ counterrevolution is necessary in order to place our argument in its proper context. In this little note one needs to locate Ambedkar as a Gramsciean philosopher of praxis and a Lukácsean critique of reified consciousness. A reading of caste and Hinduism as a “symbolic disorder” is based on this Gram-sciean and Lukácsean critique. According to Ambedkar, this infamous ‘Hindu’ counterre-volution is based on two premises “graded inequality” and “division of labourers”. This counterrevolution started with Adi Shankara’s theological coup against the egalitarian Buddhist order and in privileging the parasitic Brahminacal priests and condemning the artisan and craftsmen as unclean untou-chables. According to this type of reading, this counterrevolution privileged the infamous ‘spiritualisation’ thesis over the indigenous sciences.10
But these Brahman/Shudra, material labour/spiritual labour divisions were never seriously challenged, nor was the dubious theory of the privileging the so-called “spiritual sciences” challenged, even in independent India. Both pre-colonial India as also British colonialism took this division and opposition as something natural to Indian civilisation. Whilst industria-lisation in India did break up the village communities, the caste system was revamped in modern lines to suit modern capitalism. The old opposition between Brahman and Shudra was transformed into the new opposition of bourgeois and proletariat. What one now needs to do is to critique both the traditional caste mode of production as also the destructive industrial model that India has undertaken as the dominant economy since independence. Our main critique is that of neo-liberalism capitalism and imperialism. This part of subaltern social history which inverts the Brahmanical and neoliberal theory of education articulates the programme of people’s education. The plural and cosmopolitan understanding of Indian social history determined by the labour question shall emerge in this site.
7. This ontology of labour now takes a new twist where a new discipline is created: the discipline of “desireology”. Here education ceases to be obsessed with the mind as such. Instead it involves a paradigm shift where “ideas” are displaced for “desires”. We cease to be involved with consciousness as such, but from now on education deals with the dialectic between labour, alienation and the deep unconscious. In this sense we follow Andre Breton’s First Manifesto of Surrealism which privileged the element of the fantastic in dreams. What Marx calls the estranged mind in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 and the phantasmagoria in Capital now become the main objects of educating desires, especially in the critique of neoliberal capitalism and fascism. The synthesis of science, philosophy and the arts is now realised as a dramaturgy—the struggle against fascism. It is thus on this site that a radical critique of fascism shall emerge. Indian fascism has two parts: one that is based on the hierarchical caste system and the other which emerges from industrial capitalism. Real education has to be anti-fascist and anti-fundamentalist. Here it must be said that fascists cannot think, nor can they philosophise. They can only create mass hysteria and then destroy human civilisation. True and authentic education will directly have to confront fascism. It will soon become a life and death struggle, just as neighbouring countries in South and West Asia are battling their fundamentalists and fascists.
8. Based on the above seven points, the philosophy of emancipatory praxis follows. The praxis of free-universal education emanates from this struggle against neo-liberal capitalism and fascism. We move thus from theory to praxis. The poor and wretched masses of India are the main focus of this campaign. Whilst removal of illiteracy is its main focus, the accompanying programme of offering an alternative education to the mainstream reified types of schools is made here. We move then to forming educational collectives. Educational collectives de-school society from the outside. This “outside” remains literally “outside” the schools, colleges and universities at the first level, but consequently penetrates the formal educational systems, thus transforming them from hierarchical systems to systems of radical equality. It neither remains on the older spaces of civil society (meaning at the level of the NGOs now totally corrupted with international MNC donations attached inexorably with imperial interests) and the state (that is, waiting for a so-called welfare or even the so-called socialist model of education, that is, the education system that existed in the USSR). Instead educational collectives transcend both civil society and the state, and move in the New Site of the “commons”. Education, that is, true and authentic education, can only be possible when the understanding of the commons and the consequent occupation of commons is possible. The understanding and occupation of the commons is only possible when the Subaltern Indian Renaissance is understood, started and then completed. Consequently it is imperative to differentiate the “Renaissance from above” that included the Hindu reform movement (led by Raja Rammohan Roy) and the “Renaissance from below”.
The “Renaissance from above” led to Indian liberalism. Now the fascists have come. It is time for the “Renaissance from below” to speak for itself.
1. Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron, Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture (New Delhi: Sage,
2000), p. 210.
2. Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen, An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions (London: Allen Lane, 2013), p. 107.
3. By “science” we follow the dialectical and historical model as expounded by the philosopher G.W.F. Hegel in his Science of Logic where “science” is wissenschaft or the seeking of real and authentic knowledge with humanity at the root of this real and authentic knowledge. We are clearly critical of the Anglo-Saxon model of ‘science’ where a form of technological rationality rules the roost, a form of rationality that has totally forgotten the idea of humanity as humanity.
4. By “mind” one means Geist in the sense of German Classical Philosophy which is translated as “mind” and “spirit”. Knowledge production is the essence of this discourse.
5. These are three main questions for the German philosopher Immanuel Kant.
6. Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1982), p. 69.
7. Ibid., p. 99.
8. Ibid., p. 98. Also see Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1983), p. 27.
9. Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, p. 98.
10. See my ‘Asiatic Mode of Production, Caste and the Indian Left’, in Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XLIX, No. 19, May 10, 2014.
The author belongs to the Indian Institute of Education, Pune. He can be contacted at e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org