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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Same old, same old

So. First post after ICSE, and I have nothing special to say, because it doesn't feel special anymore. The results are not out yet, but the new school will start soon, and with that we gear up for the next big exam which is less than two years away. Once again there will be studies, some fun, new friends, old friends, home, school, gaming, mall, blog. The only difference: no more studying Geography, Bengali, and most importantly, History.
Speaking of History: kids need to know about the past because of tradition, heritage, not repeating the same mistakes, understanding where we come from, belonging... I get it. However, I find that very less History is written with these things in top priority. I'm fully aware that I'm probably not the first person to notice that our History books, even those taught in Primary school, are full of violence. Yes, the past is unchangeable. Human beings have done some terrible things which we cannot go back on, and I do not advocate covering it up and never talking about it again. I do, however, emphasize the need to exercise great caution while dealing with past human acts which are not that glorious. It goes without saying that the way tyrants and butchers are termed heroes will have a negative effect on children, but my chief concern is elsewhere. I fear, and experience confirms my fears to a great extent, that the tiniest of kids, not to mention the know-it-all adults, learn to hate a religious or linguistic or ethnic group based on what someone from that group did some time. History becomes a 'we or they' deal. Some greatly educated and respected men and women I personally know can't stand the thought of behaving sociably or even civilly with Muslims. Some others have the same problem with the Chinese, or the Sikhs, or white people, or whatever. And their justification is what 'they did'. I understand that when terrible things are done in the name of religion or national pride, people on the receiving end might develop a general fear of that religion or nation, and I excuse the poverty-stricken, starved masses of my country whose opinions are dictated by the vested interests of some people who could afford literacy or affluence. But what about the "educated" ones? What about the esteemed executive of my city, who happens to be the son of a Hindu family, who lamented to me last year about how ‘Muslims were taking over our country' and how 'we shouldn't allow them here' because of 'what they did to us'? And I find that the History curriculum taught to 16-year-olds portrays the last years of the Freedom Struggle here as more of a struggle for religious supremacy between various factions rather than a struggle for democratic self-rule. Coincidence? I think not.
Presenting facts without emotion can be difficult, but this is something that History books, especially school textbooks, must do. They must stop presenting their opinions about which party disrupted a coalition's working: just say they didn't agree! And stop adding adjectives about how one side's army 'brutally' attacked the other, as if the other side didn't kill anyone: just say who won, and maybe mention that there were a large number of casualties without naming sides. Not as simple as it sounds, and the lines can get blurred: I know. But they must try, and children must be given the right attitude about organized conflict before they are taught about it. If they are too young for that in primary school, teach them Language, Science, Math, Geography and send them home: or limit History to conflicts not involving one's own race or country, and definitely not that bomb called religion. The curriculum of those years is mostly repeated later anyway, so why not start with it when they have developed some human values. Meanwhile, the onus is on teachers of History in classrooms, in schools and colleges, to ensure that children do not view the morality of violence based on who is committing it, and that the only loyalty that the subject inculcates in them is the loyalty to human welfare, human progress, and peace on earth. For all. History teachers nowadays probably affect children more than Value Education teachers. I know some who know the gravity of their influence, and try very hard: but the books are not helping them.
Recently I was given a hugely thick History book, a non-academic one, which I have by now read about a sixth or perhaps a fifth of. It is hitherto doing a good job of presenting History neutrally when it gets hairy and humans start fighting, but I'm not recommending it here until I see how it handles the real problematic parts: 19th century to the present, and especially the 20th century with its two World Wars and cauldrons of hate. I can tell that they have tried, though -- and unless all other books and all teachers take note of what is wrong with the present method, History will inevitably repeat itself. World War III: Nuclear Conflict... sound nice to you?
Makes one hell of a video game title, yes, but we won't be alive to play it.


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