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Let me start off with a little anecdote.
It was a bright summer morning, a girl with even brighter opinions and a bold countenance sat pondering during her English lesson. Everyone sat as they normally would, their minds thinking in sync, their motions robotic, their teacher instructing them to construct essays in a uniform format.
‘Uniformity brings perfection, children. I want to see neat paragraphs written with the same approach we discussed yesterday; first, the…’ she continued on, the students hanging onto the words now imprinted in their brains, their hands so used to write the way she told them to, that they never even thought to ask why.
The ponderous girl knew her student rights. She dared to ask why.
And her answer was a searing insult in front of everyone. How could she dare to question the teacher? How dare she use her mind to think beyond what is taught to everyone else? Why was she so irked by this uniformity when everyone else did as they were told with complacency?
The girl could answer her teacher’s jabs with great wit. But realizing her questions were rhetorical and didn’t expect to be answered, she shushed her buzzing mind and the surge of anger that beheld her as the English teacher, a position that promised self-expression, glared at her for being inquisitive. Instead, she apologized, sullenly, and sat back with the rest of the non-imaginative class, working away at an order when language was supposed to be a medium a human used to express themselves. Wasn’t it?
What moral do you take from this story? Huh? That, students, should not express themselves. Don’t ask questions in a classroom for fear of offending your teacher and her methods. And most importantly, don’t be inquisitive and always conform.
In a world prone to standardization, our schools have lost the very essence of their founding, and our students have lost the intuition for knowledge. There is no room for questions in a modern day classroom, more so than before. If we rewind to the Middle Ages or travel to the Baghdad of the 13th Century, students were granted more freedom in Inquisition and self-learning than they do today. They were urged to ponder, to push their mental boundaries and break beyond common knowledge and become people with an earned sense of knowledge, not a forced one.
Fast forward to today, a child is compelled to tick assessment objectives of a preset curriculum and doing just that, is sent off into the world. That child lacks imagination, confidence and the thirst for questing towards a ‘more’. That child can’t distinguish himself from his peers due to years of being forced to think alike, and sadly so, the schools deem this academic myopia the least of their concerns. Schools today strive for recognition and commercial fertility, undermining the fact that the students do not have a recognized voice of their own.
That story you read wasn’t a figment of an imagination springing from freshly felt contempt at my school’s inability to teach me to speak, but an anecdote of my life which has greatly disturbed me. It isn’t a possibility, but a reality. Schools in our time promised parents enrolling their children of a curriculum that will let their child explore himself, unearth his talents and embrace the confidence to learn. But, is leaving learning to a few chapters in a glossy book, the only definition of education? For most schools, that is what it has come to.
I just received my CIE results and safe to say, aced in the standardized system but I do not credit my voice, my opinions and the confidence to express them with unflinching countenance to my school. I am taught not to question what I am being taught but consequently told to be confident. I am being bound inside a kiln to be baked just like the other millions of students out there.
Personal growth is nowhere to be seen. When pried about this, schools defend themselves by claiming that such a thing could harm the students’ discipline. That is where the line has been drawn; inquisition and discipline. Isn’t discipline a facet of our personalities much larger than the need to walk in a straight line, keep our hands behind our backs when we walk our halls? When would a student most need to use that discipline? When they are being challenged, of course. But when schools fear to challenge their students, how can one harness that discipline into a part of their persona?
The demand doesn’t require schools to begin classes for contemplation or provoke protests and petitions; it requires them to let children think that which has not been taught to them. In the race for urging students to be accolades that they can brandish in the local newspapers, schools have forgotten that what they run is not a marketing hub but a place where a child is sent to learn.
If I can’t ask my own teacher why I can’t write my essays the way I normally do and instead have to use a monotonous format unsuited to my style, does it sound like I would ever muster the guts fight for myself?
Why is this uniformity such a crucial part of schooling?
Ultimately, any institution is run by humans, whose prime fear is opposition. Things need to be set out in a predictable way. The results should be foreseen. Everything should be done in a way so that there is no element of surprise. And this planning comes at the cost of a student’s individuality.
I am told to debate during class, but not create a heated discussion. I am told to check the students’ uniforms with utmost scrutiny but not report any cases of student misdemeanor because that may rouse a bad impression on the headmistress. I am told to refrain from expressing my conjectures on world politics because I may have opinions on that but my friends don’t, and that would offend them.
The reason they don’t is that they haven’t had the need to. Students are being coaxed into a secure environment where passing and failing are the two peaks of the pendulum; there is no in between to worry about. Ironically, I am the one thought of as a coyote running wild into a civilian territory, brazening the undisturbed gardens of my peers’ minds. Topics such as humanity and current affairs are nuisances for them.
And I don’t blame them.
It isn’t healthy to cultivate criticism over an institution built to educate but it’s high time such flaws are shone a light on. Otherwise, these students will stumble over their own tongue, bewildered, when their opinions are asked for over a cup of coffee and will go on band-wagoning behind the next person’s words, just as they did in that English lesson where I was reprimanded for thinking.