October 30, 2014

Part 2: "Stayed on Freedom": Social Movements and Re-Inventing Education

Before and after picture from the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in the U.S. 
Before we can reinvent education, we must understand why it needs reinventing and why education was of concern to freedom struggles and other humanitarian efforts.

Without writing a dissertation on the history of education, the "Western" model of education which mandated public schools for all young people, whether in America or England, was deeply rooted in obedience, conformity and homogenization of a population.  Both models sprung up in the mid to late 1800's during times of conquest and colonialism, and were designed to produce industrial workers who were loyal to "the crown" or to the American government.

At the time, "teachers" were the keepers of knowledge.  We didn't have the internet or even public libraries.  In order to get your education, you had to be in the same room as the teacher and the teacher told you what to think and what to do.  If you responded in the way the teacher wanted, you were rewarded.  If not, you were punished.

Mandated public education is an extremely powerful way for governments to control the beliefs and attitudes of young people that will last their whole lives.  It is no secret why an imperialist government would want to implement public education in newly conquered territories.

In the 1850's, the U.S. had 31 states and over 3 million slaves.  The term "Manifest Destiny" became popular as America expanded westward deeming their conquests as "divine providence."  The government funded boarding schools for Native American children.  U.S. Army officer, Richard Pratt, founded the first Indian boarding school, called the Carlisle Indian Industrial School.  In 1892, he described his philosophy in a speech, saying:

"A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one.  I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead.  Kill the Indian in him, and save the man."      

Upon entering these schools, Native American students were forced to cut their hair short, take English names, wear European-style clothes and uniforms, speak English, convert to Christianity and more.  These were not gentle steps to nudge children into developing as valued individuals.  It was overt cultural genocide to produce graduates who were conforming, obedient, loyal and ready to serve the needs of American businesses and government. 

The system of public education in India was much the same.  So, for someone like Gandhi, who wanted to empower the Indian people, to embrace their native culture and language in a movement toward Hind Swaraj, re-inventing education was essential.  Traditional "Western" schools were tools of conquest, not education.  And therein lies the root of the connection between nonviolence, freedom struggles and reinventing education.        

Next: Part 3, Nai Talim, or "New Education."  Gandhi's effort at re-inventing education. 

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