J.P. Naik Memorial Lecture-2015


       The demand for value education is as common as the lamentation of the “falling moral value”. Both the contentions, that there is an extraordinary crisis of moral values and that the so-called value education is the remedy, need to be analyzed and examined. But these tasks are not taken up in the present paper although these tasks are very important to liberate us from pseudo generalizations, over simplifications and uncritical fascination for the past. The commonality of the two contentions is, rather, mentioned here only to underline the fact that in common perception education is seen as a process or tool which enables the flourishing of typical human qualities and dispositions to elevate the animal called homo sapiens to the status of human being. The homo sapiens are continually in this process, sometimes progressively and sometime regressively. This process involves not only moral dimensions two, like systematization, planning, theorization, methodology, skill-training etc.
      Volumes have been written on the nature of defining features and aims of education and a discussion on this subject would need much more space than permissible presently. It might suffice here to clarify that this paper agrees with this description of education and takes it as one of the starting points for further discourse. Also, this description has heavy bearing on the aims of education, laying the foundation for the latter. This description is very thin in the content but this need not be a disadvantage.
      It is interesting to note that many times some dimensions of education come in conflict with some aims of life which, in turn creates conflict between these dimension themselves. For example the aims of “adjustment” with reality and “success” in life , mainly defined in economic terms, may come in conflict with moral dimension of education and this may create-generating competition between the moral and, say, skill-training dimensions of education. A study of educational policies of our country would make the point clearer. The present crisis of science subjects has our-shadowed the older crisis of liberal subjects like humanities and the rush for commerce subjects seems to have usurped most of the spaces of formal education. The outcry for “moral education” or “value education” has been proportionate to the rose of this trend. The situation has been ‘tackled’ by the sham solution of making NGO internship a compulsory part of almost all the career courses. This issue, again, is larger than the theme taken up here. Because it seems that a probe into this issue will involve the questions of utopia, social vision and social engineering.
      To return to the outcry for moral or value education, it needs to be noted that the term “value” is much larger than the term “moral”, Values are of many kinds and moral values are only one of them. There are economic values, aesthetic values and, may be, many more, besides moral values. In this paper the word “value” is being used in its moral sense only and the phrases “moral education” and “value education” are being used interchangeably. The outcry mentioned above is indeed for values only. Be it an incident of violence or corruption or misbehavior, people have an easy remedy to offer : provide moral education.  There seems to be almost unanimity on this solution. There also seems to be almost unanimity on the contention that it is a simple solution, a panacea, for all social events. But as soon as one starts asking questions about its content and method, things seems to be complicated, blurred and highly contestable. Let us probe a little in two major issues : what does morality consist in and what is the best or near-best method of imparting it to our children.
     A deeper discourse on morality or moral values would require quit a bit of meta-ethical inquiry into the norms or parameters of moral judgments, a task not taken up here. What is proposed to be attempted here is to note what ordinarily goes on in the name of moral education and to inquire it this could really count as moral education, especially in view of the fact that moral education is offered as the panacea for violence and arrogance which we find all around us. In a study conducted by our organization Saajhi Duniya on the content-analysis of text books we found that the books on moral education viewed morality mainly, (many times exclusively), as matter of a few behavior-patterns and these behavior patterns were, in turn, viewed exclusively as conformist rituals like touching the feet of parents and teachers, having regular bath, worshipping idols and the like. While talking to the teachers and parents we found almost absolute consensus that these were the things which should count as moral education and they also thought that this would make our children good human beings. However, my real life-experiences never matched this faith. During my long stint in a university as a teacher I came across all combinations of persons, those who touched feet and did many nice things, those who did not touch feet and did many nice things, those who did neither of the to things and those who touched feet and immediately thereafter  did horrible  things like misbehaving or creating disturbance in the thus for peaceful attentive class. Real life experiences present comparable, combinations in case of the so-called virtues of “bathing” or “idol worshipping” too. Obviously, there is no necessary connection between what passes as a moral lesson in these books and morality in a more substantial sense.
    It is crucial to distinguish between morality on one hand and aesthetics, expediency, pragmatic utility, conformity on the other hand. Morality has sense of unconditionality and autonomy, requiring freedom of choice as a pre-condition. Its value is intrinsic to it, not extrinsic. That is, a conduct done out of fear or temptation or pragmatic calculation or pressure is not moral. Yet, it may confirm to what usually counts as good behavior. Moral conduct is not ritualistic but has an in-built character of being just and based on the sole reason of being just. And this character automatically brings in a sense of the inalienable rights and well-being of “the other”, any one who is not me, and the expense of this “any one” is unlimited at least within human society. Thus, objectivity, sensitivity to others and equality stand out as the basics of morality.
      If this seems acceptable then we may try to identify that tasks before educational system if it has to impart moral education. The foremost task of moral education would be do facilitate the pupil to cross the boundaries of his/her sense of identity, to expand the vision of “his” or “her” world in which he/she has to live in interdependence and mutual adjustment. The pupils recognition of his/her identity and his/her conception of belongingness have to be so widened that the narrow stereotypical identities of caste, region, gender, community, nation or religion are transcended and the pupil develops the capacity to feel the feelings of even those who are not part of his/her family or institution or religion or nation and so on. This widening of one’s ego or identity and acceptance of the rights of the other who is very different from myself may take place gradually, step-by-step. But the education system has to plan it in such a way that the pupil’s shared world, the world to which he/she belongs gets systematically expended and the walls narrowing down his/her world are broken one-by-one. For this to two things are essential. One is to encourage, strengthen and refine the questioning and critiquing power of the pupil and the other is to facilitate flourishing of his/her emotionality and sensitivity Recognition and acceptance of plurality, empathy with others’ joys and sorrows and essentiality of limitation to one’s self-centric desire are crucial to moral sense. Exposure to nature’s beauty, stories of human pains and pleasures, understanding of the vagaries of life in favourable  and unfavourable circumstances, appreciation of the commonalties of joys and sorrows among humans who are otherwise hugely different from each other would be helpful in this direction.
     If we take stock of the text books pedagogy and the overall environment in schools in the light of the afore mentioned, we would find them highly unsatisfactory. Criticality and reason have minimum space, plurality has very poor representation, not much is available to explore the complexities of life and understand the moral issues of society and instead of nurturing soft, liberal emotions in the child the overall environment of schools helps hardening of feelings and re-assertion of stereotypical and unjust structures of society. Sita and Savitri would be presented as ideal women without problematizing  either Sita’s silence or Savitri’s son-preference. Eklavya is presented even today as an ideal who obediently cuts of his thumb and gifts it to the “teacher” who refused to teach him on highly immoral ground. Vivekanand’s story does not forget to mention that he belonged to a high class brahimn family. Shrawan Kumar assures Dashrath that since he (Shrawan Kumar) is not a brahmin, Dashrath has not committed  a sin by killing Shrawan Kumar, Chapters on women characters do not fail to mention that besides doing whatever great things they are known for, they performed their domestic duties with perfection and were obedient to their husbands whereas no such references are ever made in case of male character. The list of such examples which not only do not highlight the injustice and inhumanity of the social structural stereotypes gender, caste and community but also glorify these stereotypes is long. Longer would be the list of similar examples found in the extra-curricular environment and discourses in schools. A child receiving  this type of education stands very little chance to even develop the ability to distinguish between what is moral and what is immoral. Rather, he/she is more likely to perpetuate the immoral and discriminative unjust structures and rituals of society and be immune to finer sensitivities and concerns by life.

Method of Moral Education
    Besides the content of education the question of the method of imparting moral education also is very important. It is true that value system of a child is formed not only through formal education but also through the larger environment which includes family, peer group, people in power-positions, etc. Most of our lessons of patriarchy, casteism, communalism and other unjust hierarchies are taught by this informal educational environment the most crucial and effective element of which is home. Yet, in my opinion, formal education system remains a very important institution in correcting immoral stereotyping ingrained in the child’s mind by this fluid and almost unclinchable  environment. Formal Education system has the potency to shake the deep unconscious acceptance of unjust hierarchies and dominances, I believe. Even if we grant only partial potency of formal education for inculcating moral values in pupils’ minds, the question would arise how to do this. Generally the answer to this question is that a separate subject, with separate books, must be added in syllabii  and under this subject the children must be told what is good or right and what is bad or wrong. The children must be told how to be behave. To me this approach seems to be wrong and ineffective. An acquaintance with children’s psychology would convince us that they are not very receptive of the list of do’s and don’ts. Such sermons do not touch their hearts and minds and they forget these lessons as soon as the examinations are over the instruction-based teaching in case of morality is least likely to succeed because such a teaching does not arouse sentiments, it fails to stir deep anxieties in pupils’ minds, it does not provoke the students to under take the journey of searching the mysteries of life and fabric of relationships. Moral questions are deeply interwoven with this kind of search. Therefore any pedagogy which skirts this journey, which leaves untouched the stories of joys and sorrows of human beings which dose not put in sober perspectives the facts of victories and failures which dose not emanate the mature acceptance of shedding the desire of dominance and appreciate the necessity to share and cooperate, would fail in its job. And, none of the above is achievable just by telling the child to do this or that, to accept this reject that morality resides in heart and mind and therefore heart and mind have to be aroused and stirred.
    Furthermore, it has to be appreciated that “morality” is not a compartment of like living in isolation from the various issues and dimensions of life. The moral questions arise in all the subjects, be it economics or literature or history or even mathematics and natural sciences. Each one of these subjects provides a site for bringing in moral values how so much the subject may appear to be value-neutral. Therefore value education or moral education has to be integrated with each subject which is being taught already. A little peep in to the history of science has immense possibilities of sensitizing students towards unity of human kind, objectivity, truth and impartiality. Wars-ridden histories provide and excellent cite for sensitizing students towards democratic values, gender issues and non-violence. The examples are galore.

     If this approach makes any sense, we will need to make radical changes in our curriculum and books and thus has to be done with a sense of urgency because it is not a question of making our children fall in live but a question of their life having a meaning.