Passing Bite | Society

A State assembly where everyone is making a grab for power cannot be an institution dedicated to the betterment of people

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As in any institution, a network of behaviour and protocols is indispensable to the integrity of our elected assemblies

Teachers are our first models of authority outside of the family. Different sets of parents may allow varying levels of questioning: some parents could come down hard on any challenge to their authority while others may allow their children to discover the values of debate and discussion; but the teachers in a school work as a group, with the ‘strictest’ and ‘most lenient’ ones at the extremes, and it is the average in the middle, the mean that imposes itself on the students.

Life vs. theory

Both family and school encourage children to accept the authority of teachers unquestioningly. In return for obeying the rules, and compliance with the strictures, a child subconsciously begins to expect the teacher to be of impeccable morals, to be absolutely trustworthy and truthful, to be meticulously fair and equal in their dealings with everyone. The teacher is expected to turn up on time, to know their subject fully, to work rigorously in conveying knowledge to pupils. The teacher is expected to take exams and mark papers without fear or favour. Likewise, in class, the teacher is not only the conduit of knowledge but also the law-keeper, making sure that no student obstructs any other in the reception of learning, ensuring that no student is bullied or beaten up by another. In class and outside, on the playing field and off it, the teacher is supposed to be a vigilant, neutral referee/ umpire.

That, at least, is the theory.

Joining school, you very quickly learn that life is very different from theory. Some teachers are far better than others in an all-round way, others have good aspects and bad ones, some others are just plain incompetent, or uninterested, or, worst of all, cruel and manipulative.

Teachers can turn a blind eye to the brazen rule-breaking of some students while punishing others for far lesser misdemeanours. It’s not only students who suck up to teachers, teachers too butter up parents who are wealthy, powerful and influential, not the least by showing favouritism to the children of such people. This, in turn, encourages privileged children to behave in an entitled way.

Games teachers play

Just as kids can tell if their parents are not getting along, schoolkids can have an uncanny sense of internecine fighting between teachers, of warring cliques in the staffroom, of the byzantine or obvious manoeuvrings of the headmaster or mistress and their supporters and enemies. They can see through whatever united front the principal or headmaster and teaching staff present to the students and, if given an opportunity, they can leverage the schisms between their educational overlords.

As a student approaches adulthood, she or he is increasingly able to absorb and reproduce models of behaviour they see in their teachers. Obliged to treat their wards as quasi-adults, the staff changes the level of the head-games they play with the ones in their care. There could be guilt-tripping, subtle or unsubtle undermining of the young person’s confidence or talent, the machiavellian setting off of one student against another, or groups against each other and so on.

However, through this whole process, a certain structure of honesty, truthfulness, fairness, civility and grace is sought to be maintained by the teaching staff. At worst, this structure could be a façade based entirely on pretence, at best, in really good educational institutions, it can be very real, but there would be no school where this idea — of the teacher being a model and setting a good example — is entirely jettisoned.

A different kind of machine

No matter how bad the school, you would be hard pressed to find one where factions of teachers are physically brawling, openly bribing each other to change gangs, misusing the law to openly threaten each other, with the headmaster and governing council all merrily and brazenly participating in the mayhem. Were you to come across such a scenario in a school staffroom you could accurately say that the school or institution was no longer worthy of the name, that it had, in fact, become a dangerously riotous marketplace.

Of course we don’t vote and elect our teachers. Nor do we see our elected representatives as our teachers or parents, no matter what the feudal ‘I am your mother-father’ delusions some politicians may display. But, as in a school, college or any other kind of institution, a certain structure, a certain network of behaviour and protocols is indispensable to the integrity of our elected assemblies, whether they be in the State or at the Centre. If even this fig-leaf is removed, not only are innards of the often quite ugly machine brazenly displayed for all to see, it becomes a different kind of machine.

A school where chairs are flying in the staffroom is not a place dedicated to providing an education, it is a place where teachers are bent upon maiming each other. A State assembly where everyone is openly and shamelessly making a grab for power is not an institution dedicated to providing governance for the betterment of the people, it is a site where the most selfish and venal examples of our society are unfurling their lust to have control over the rest of us.

The writer is a filmmaker and columnist.

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2019 12:49:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/a-state-assembly-where-everyone-is-making-a-grab-for-power-cannot-be-an-institution-dedicated-to-the-betterment-of-people/article30122500.ece

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