Lessons for the future
Correlating the past with the present can not only change mindsets and attitudes but the future as well.
In the age of fake news, and an unlimited thread of propaganda on social media, it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate the truth from lies. Seeking a neutral and uncoloured outlook of the world and the social structures we live in is becoming imperative.
I joined the Government Boys Senior Secondary School No. 1, C Block, Janakpuri, New Delhi, in August 2019 as a Grade VIII History and English teacher. After my first interaction with my students, it was not surprising to learn that, to them, the most boring subject was History. I wondered how we could build an awareness of fake news and propaganda and to empower Gen Z, in becoming rational citizens?
Within the first month, it was evident that there was an underlying tension in the classroom that was hampering student learning. Rather than religious animosity, it was confusion and perplexity. Many students would try to create a ruckus and shout biased slogans. Instead of sharing my opinions, we dove into a few editorial pieces. We uncovered how issues originated during the British Raj as tools that aided their divide and rule politics. Later, post-Independence, we observed how the issue was used as fuel again for political gains and votes. After objectively reading more, the students were able to view the issue as a propaganda tool and vote-bank politics, instead of religious hatred, in a matter of weeks.
To shift mindsets, I needed more one-on-one time with the boys. With the class teacher’s permission, I took the “happiness period” and created a space where students could feel a sense of community with their classmates. I also wanted to empower them to become rational thinkers. Once they realised what biases are and why the media takes sides, we decided as a classroom that we would only refer to reliable and impartial sources of news.
Protests served as fuel for discussions in our news reading spaces. I attempted to draw parallels between the Revolt of 1857 from the syllabus to current events with a lesson titled, “Why do people protest?” We explored topics of public demands and the state’s responsibility to mediate and negotiate. I made sure to provide the boys with contrasting ideas, even if they were against my own ideology. It’s integral for an educator to keep aside their own biases. When students asked me if people protesting were right or wrong, I presented the students with facts, not opinions. Gradually I saw a shift in student attitudes and mindsets. The boys were now looking at issues more objectively and moving away from the binary of good and bad.
Over the lockdown months we discussed India’s response to COVID-19, the Environmental Impact Assessment Bill, Northeast Delhi riots, the national lockdown and other interesting news pieces such as Tesla roofs and meme culture. We continued drawing correlations from the past. Through workshops on fake news, well-being, mental health and how to use tools on the Internet to fact check, I was able to create spaces where the boys shared their thoughts, listened to their peers and, most importantly, connected with their classmates to foster a community of budding citizens who are aware, sensitive and just.
The writer is a Teach For India fellow.