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Politics of knowledge – The Tribune India

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AVIJIT PATHAK

Sociologist

THE inevitable seems to have happened. In order to give some relief to young students — particularly, at a time when the pandemic has caused acute stress, and disturbed the process of normal learning, the CBSE has decided to reduce the contents of the syllabus. In an ideologically charged politico-cultural milieu, the deletion of some chapters from classes IX to XII textbooks — say, the chapters dealing with democracy and diversity, or citizenship and secularism — has led to a debate on the ‘motives’. In a society fast losing the values of democracy, egalitarianism and cultural pluralism, it is possible to argue that the CBSE (or its not-so-innocent academic bureaucrats) too has begun to devalue what a child needs to learn to grow up as a responsible citizen in a pluralist/democratic society.

Beyond ‘left’ and ‘right’, students should be encouraged to remain open, dialogic, tender and receptive.

However, in order to go deeper, we need to see beyond the ‘rightist’ move and the ‘leftist’ reaction. Instead, we need to ask some honest questions relating to the culture of schooling, dominant pedagogic practices and politics of the official curriculum. It has to be realised that knowledge is not mere information; and wisdom is not the pride of knowledge. However, for schoolchildren, knowledge has been reduced to a heavy baggage of information. Science and history, civics and geography, moral education and biology, mathematics and computer technology: our children are compelled to carry these heavy loads of information, or consume these ‘knowledge capsules’ as depicted in textbooks. With weekly tests, meaningless summer projects and constant performance anxiety — our educationists, policy makers and academic bureaucrats have already deprived these young minds of what is really needed for any meaningful learning — the lightness of being, the joy of seeing things deeply, or the spirit of being a wanderer. And my interaction with a group of parents suggests that even at this time of the pandemic, schools have put unbearable pressure on children in the name of online teaching and completing the syllabus.

As everything is success-oriented (the fetish of 99% marks in board exam), creative/reflexive pedagogy loses its meaning. Quite often, even many ‘leftists’ fail to realise that even if you give them the texts written by the likes of Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib, or introduce a chapter on Birsa Munda and Savitribai Phule, the prevalent pedagogic practice and the pattern of evaluation would destroy everything. Because everything is just a ‘fact’— a 2-mark question! It is dead; it has no soul; it doesn’t cause any inner churning. Not solely that. Even democracy is taught in a non-democratic way, or in a way that, as Paulo Freire would have regarded as a ‘banking’ form of education: the ‘all-knowing’ teacher dictates, and the ‘passive’ student receives! Ask an average school student of class XII about Pablo Neruda and Kamala Das (their poems are in the syllabus); you would find no spark in her eyes, no poetic ecstasy. The fact is that poetry has already been killed in a dull/routinised/prosaic classroom. Hence, we need not have an illusion that a chapter on democracy and fundamental rights does necessarily create wonders. Amid CCTV cameras, monologue of teachers, popularisation of quick/instant answers to objective questions and reckless hierarchisation in the class, children see the gap between bookish knowledge and the lived reality.

I am not denying the significance of what is included in the syllabus. And I am also aware that what we see as ‘worth learning’ cannot be separated from the larger politico-economic ideology. And these political biases characterise the educationists of all colours — Ambedkarites, Marxists, rightists and centrists. And possibly, the entire trajectory of the NCERT textbooks reveals the dynamics of the political context of the curriculum. As a teacher and concerned citizen, I too believe that our children should be aroused and encouraged to explore the ideas beneath the freedom struggle, the spirit of Gandhi, the intensity of Bhagat Singh, or the questions Ambedkar raised. They should know about the art of living amid plurality and diversity; they should be encouraged to cultivate the art of listening — even listening to one’s opponents. They should be motivated to walk with science and poetry, religiosity and egalitarianism, patriotism and cosmopolitanism; and they should be inspired to see the beauty of a non-hierarchical/inclusive mind. In other words, beyond ‘left’ and ‘right’— they should be encouraged to remain open, dialogic, tender and receptive.

Possibly, all great educators — Gandhi and Tagore, Tolstoy and Krishnamurti, Ivan Illich and Paulo Freire — strove for an ideal of this kind. Beyond the burden of knowledge, the heavy baggage of information and the celebration of exam success: they stressed on the quality of the teacher-taught relationship, the spirit of joy and wonder in the continual play of learning and unlearning, and the cultivation of love and compassion. It is sad that we hardly bother about these fundamental issues. Instead, petty politics, bureaucratic dullness, pedagogically impoverished classrooms, politically engineered textbooks and life-killing exams characterise the educational scenario. What saddens me is that seldom do we see beyond the usual rhetoric: rightists propose, leftists react; rightists seek to valourise Shivaji and Rana Pratap, leftists speak of the peasant upsurge and the Soviet Revolution, or the Nehruvians seek to prioritise the contributions of the Indian National Congress in the freedom struggle, and Ambedkarites debunk it. However, none seems to be interested in the true spirit of learning — an environment that encourages the child to wonder and learn, relate and love, and create and discover.

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Politics Briefing: Liberals table UNDRIP bill – The Globe and Mail

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Hello,

The Liberal government has tabled a bill to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The legislation would provide a framework to ensure that future laws take into account Indigenous human rights.

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The bill is the second time that Parliament will be looking at the issue in recent years. A private member’s bill introduced by former NDP MP Romeo Saganash in 2016 passed the House of Commons, but died in the Senate due to opposition from Conservative senators.

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Chris Hannay. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

TODAY’S HEADLINES

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland is vetting at least five people to take over as deputy minister of her department, including three current DMs, and officials at the International Monetary Fund and the Bank of Canada.

Why the timing of the COVID-19 vaccine is so crucial to containing the virus’s spread.

How Newfoundland and Labrador’s rookie Premier, Andrew Furey, is trying to turn the province around.

The Liberal government has introduced a number of legislative initiatives recently to get tough on the tech giants, and a new Nanos poll shows support for the agenda, including requiring Netflix to charge sales tax and to fund Canadian content.

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Canada has joined its Five Eyes allies in condemning a tweet from a Chinese government spokesperson that falsely depicts an Australian soldier holding a knife to a child’s throat.

Health experts say a House petition sponsored by Conservative MP Derek Sloan that refers to the COVID-19 vaccine as an example of “human experimentation” spreads dangerous misinformation.

And former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama are teaming up to say they would take a COVID-19 vaccine on TV, if it would help boost vaccination rates.

Campbell Clark (The Globe and Mail) on Trudeau sending out a cabinet minister to explain a broken promise on clean water for First Nations: “The political value of the promise, in fact, was that it was clear, easy to understand, specific, and made by the person who would be PM. And what we are supposed to get in return is accountability. On Wednesday, [Marc] Miller said he takes responsibility. But this was about prime ministerial accountability. Accept no substitute.”

Avvy Go, Debbie Douglas and Shalini Konanur (The Globe and Mail) on pushing back on the Liberal claim that the fiscal update was feminist and intersectional: “Statistics Canada’s most recent labour-force survey confirms that Canadians in Arabic, Black, Chinese and South Asian communities experienced much higher unemployment rates and much higher increases in unemployment rates over the past year compared with white Canadians. The government promised to create more jobs through massive infrastructure investments, but it did not guarantee these jobs will be made equitably accessible to those under-represented in the labour market due to structural racism and other forms of discrimination.”

Margaret McCuaig-Johnston (National Post) on why the Chinese state’s practice of kidnapping other citizens must stop: “This horror has befallen other Canadians, as well as citizens of other countries. It is time for liberal democracies to come together to show China that there are consequences for such actions.”

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Fariha Naqvi-Mohamed (Montreal Gazette) on why small businesses need our help: “For my family, shopping locally has, most of all, meant being mindful about where we buy our takeout food. Since the start of the pandemic, we have made a point of supporting locally owned restaurants. We want to see them still there when (one day) COVID-19 is behind us. That means they need our support now.”

Ralph Nader (The Globe and Mail) on Canada’s inadequate investigations into the crash of 737 Boeing Max jets: “Transport Canada and Parliament are affected by Washington’s unwillingness to require Boeing to divulge the information necessary to evaluate Boeing and FAA claims about the justification for ungrounding. An arrogant Boeing refused even to respond to a parliamentary committee’s belated invitation to testify.”

Got a news tip that you’d like us to look into? E-mail us at tips@globeandmail.com. Need to share documents securely? Reach out via SecureDrop

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Indian movie superstar Rajinikanth to launch political party – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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Ashok Sharma, The Associated Press


Published Thursday, December 3, 2020 1:12PM EST

NEW DELHI – Indian movie superstar Rajinikanth has announced plans to launch his own political party in southern India in January, ending years of speculation by millions of his fans on his political future.

He said in a tweet that he will make an announcement on December 31st — apparently in relation to legislative elections in Tamil Nadu state expected around June next year.

He started taking an active part in politics in 2017.

The 69-year-old Rajinikanth is one of India’s most popular stars.

He’s made more than 175 films since 1975, mostly in the Tamil and Telugu languages.

He tweets that in the upcoming Assembly elections, “the emergence of spiritual politics will happen for sure — A wonder will happen.”

His political prospects appear bright following a vacuum created by the deaths of Jayaram Jayalalithaa, an actor-turned politician with the governing party in the state, and Muthuvel Karunanidhi, the leader of the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam party.

Cinema has always influenced Tamil politics by turning actors into popular politicians.

Born Shivaji Rao Gaekwad, Rajinikanth worked as a bus conductor for three years before joining an acting school.

He started in small roles as a villain in Tamil cinema and worked his way up, landing roles in Bollywood, the Hindi-language film industry based in Mumbai.

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Pandemic decision-making requires politics and science work 'hand in glove:' expert – CBC.ca

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When it comes to effective decision-making at this point in the COVID-19 pandemic, one expert says it’s more complicated than simply following the science.

“If we look at countries around the world that have very successfully dealt with the pandemic, it was when politicians and scientific advice were working hand in glove,” said Heidi Tworek, associate professor in international history and public policy at the University of British Columbia.

“In places like Taiwan, South Korea, New Zealand, Senegal, we didn’t see that politicians completely disappeared. They were actually really crucial in helping people to understand why they were doing what they were doing, what was the meaning of the guidelines that they were following,” she told The Current‘s Matt Galloway. 

“So I think there’s lots of ways in which politicians can be very, very fruitfully involved. But the balance there is what is crucial.”

From U.S. president-elect Joe Biden to Ontario Premier Doug Ford, many political leaders have promised to take cues from the science and medical communities to guide their people to the other side of the coronavirus pandemic. But government policy and scientific evidence are not always in lockstep, and those decisions are not always easy to make.

Like any new disease, the science around COVID-19 is constantly evolving, said Tworek, and not all scientists are going to agree on the best course of action.

“And so there have to be decisions made depending on what those disagreements are,” she said.

Striking a balance

Stephen Meek, a former U.K. civil servant, said there is always an inevitable degree of tension between what doctors advise in a health crisis, and what politicians decide to do.

That’s why it’s important that politicians have access to the best evidence and advice possible, he said.

“But fundamentally, what politics is and what politicians have to do, is try to strike the right balance on the base of that evidence,” explained Meek, who is also director of the Institute for Policy and Engagement at the University of Nottingham. 

“And that may mean not doing exactly what the pure medical advice on dealing with the pandemic would say.”

He added that political leaders will more easily maintain public trust if they can clearly articulate the medical evidence that experts have provided, and the reasonings behind their policy decisions — whether it follows medical advice to the letter, or not.

Meek cited the different pandemic responses in England and Scotland as an example of this in action.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has earned public support for being forthright about how she makes political decisions on the COVID-19 health crisis, says Stephen Meek of the University of Nottingham. (Jane Barlow-Pool/Getty Images)

While British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had long said he was making pandemic-related decisions based on science, he has since split from that course, which has earned him criticism.

Meanwhile, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has garnered much stronger public support, said Meek.

“[Sturgeon] has fronted up every day and talked about how she’s taking decisions on the basis of evidence, rather than as we’ve had with Boris Johnson sometimes saying, ‘I’m doing what the scientists say,’ [and] sometimes saying other stuff,” he said.

Dr. Jim Talbot agrees that maintaining public trust is key in fighting this health crisis. 

The only currency you have in public health is trust.– Dr. Jim Talbot, former chief medical officer of health

But that also means giving medical officers of health the ability to speak candidly to the public on health issues, he said.

“In Flint, Mich., where the civil authorities decided they didn’t want to warn people about the lead in the drinking water … people were very angry — rightfully so — that they could have done something to prevent the risk to their kids and to babies if they’d known,” said Talbot , a former chief medical officer for Alberta and Nunavut.

“But they weren’t informed.”

Talbot said that public trust is key for authorities to be able to make decisions and get things done.

“The only currency you have in public health is trust,” he said. “And if you squander that trust, you have nothing. It doesn’t matter your position or funding or anything else. Trust is our only currency.”


Written by Kirsten Fenn. Produced by Lindsay Rempel and Alex Zabjek.

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