Education Plus

A nursery for corruption?

A word, first, about corruption. It results from the suppression of the intrinsic with the instrumental. It involves the inability to value and enjoy something for its own sake. An employee, for example, may either enjoy doing his work or extort money through it. He cannot do both. Our growth as human beings involves growing out of the instrumental and growing into the intrinsic. A man who marries a woman for dowry is sub-human. One who knows “she is herself the reward” is human.

It may not be morally reprehensible to motivate a child to drink milk by promising her a chocolate. Motivating a teenager to read a book by promising the same is silly. Parents nurturing their children as old age insurance are, in principle, dishonest. They will be safe against such corruption if they enjoy the intrinsic value of loving their children. Nurturing children is, and must be, its own reward. The insertion of any additional reward corrupts the spirit of parent-child relationship. Whenever the intrinsic worth of anything is subjugated to its instrumental outcome, corruption results.

Is our idea and practice of education contributing to corruption? It may well be. Here are two reasons why.

From parents to teachers, everyone bribes children in all sorts of ways. Parents do so by offering them rewards for studying hard. To them, marks are the only proof that their children do so. Attractive, sometimes outlandish, rewards are promised by way of motivating them. So learning becomes, largely, an experience of looking forward to the rewards hidden in the future.

Schools consolidate and institutionalise this practice. Virtually, the only purpose for learning, right from the start, is to score marks. This ensures that no child is enabled or allowed to enjoy learning as learning. The idea that learning is only a means to an end gets ingrained in a growing child. Nothing more is required to suppress the moral sense of that child, who gets oriented wholly towards rewards, especially ‘additional’ rewards. The natural reward of learning is growth. But growth, in the present scheme of things, is to learning what salary is to work. It is not, in most cases, itself a motivating factor. Only additional — and extraneous — rewards play that part. This is the dogma that drives learning as well as corruption at all levels.

Creative impulse

This approach can help a child develop only the acquisitive instinct. Children labour hard and burn the midnight oil to score more marks. This sterile acquisition is the stepping stone to further acquisition: a gift now and bigger rewards in the future. The acquisitive instinct is indifferent, even inhospitable, to the moral sense. It suppresses the creative. The creative impulse is what enables us to express the best and the noblest in us. Those who do whatever they do for its own sake experience the joy of it. Those who do whatever they do in the hope of being rewarded, experience the burden of it. What burdens a child is not the weight of her school bag. It is the feeling that what she is required to do is worthless in itself but is tolerable only because of an uncertain reward that lurks somewhere in the dim future in the form of a good job and the perks that go with it.

The burden imposed by the ‘acquisitive’ approach to learning is vitiated by competition. Competition is the essence of the acquisitive impulse. It is incompatible with the creative. Great artists do not compete with each other for bigger rewards. They may spur each other on to perform better. That is because art is creative. Only when art is commercialised and the creative domain infiltrated by the acquisitive, does rivalry pit one artist against another. The result, then, will be ‘burdened artists’!

The bane of the current practice of education is that it is custom-designed to suppress the creative and unleash the acquisitive. As a result, parents and teachers deem value education to be, by and large, a waste of time. Values belong to the domain of the creative and the intrinsic. They are an impediment to the acquisitive. The idea of reward was alien to our native vision of education. Education was a spiritual enterprise. Scholarship bred humility. The educated were to be missionary, not mercenary, in their outlook.

If we are to contain corruption, it is imperative that we reform our idea and practice of education and make it conducive to the creative rather than the acquisitive impulse in human nature.

The writer is the principal of St. Stephen’s College, Delhi.

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Printable version | Aug 9, 2020 5:53:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/education/a-nursery-for-corruption/article6993639.ece

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