Tuesday, October 18, 2005

America of the Mind

In previous entries here and elsewhere I've written about my experiences teaching in the Third World. It is mostly a heart-breaking experience, both the teaching and the recalling, and when occasions arise, such as this below, to point out just how much worse it can get I find myself typing badly. However, for those who've followed attentively everything I've ever written you'll recall some references to mountain climbing, one of the stupidest, most dangerous, and incredible experiences open to man. And so it is with teaching in the Third World. So it is too teaching Adult Basic Education in the West. No one learns literacy in a vacuum: one must teach those who'll learn. It is a beautiful thing to see people understand that which was mysterious, to see them suddenly atop a mountain with a view of their world they'd never dreamed before. Sometimes and for some people the experience of understanding is akin to the religious experience of rapture. It's no surprise to find John Wesley at the forefront of educating the masses. Freedom: to think, to see, to speak, to know, to live ones private life.

That freedom, a curse to many, is a gift from Modernity. There are those who hate the free thinker. We must fight them with every weapon we can find. The slavers of the mind must die. Socrates and Kalashnikov. Gutenberg and Glock. Tynedale, Smith and Wesson. School teachers with guns. I march with those who march to the heights of Modernity, and I'll take as many people with me as I can, God spare those who get in the way. People the world over, they will be free, America will be of the mind, and each and every living person will be able to raise his voice in thanks from every mountain to shout "I am free to think, to know, to speak of my freedom." When that day comes, thank God Almighty, we will be free at last.

There are those who hate Modernity and individual freedom. They have legitimate points. I don't care. Below we have two stories of education on the Indian subcontinent. We'll end on a hopeful note.

Militants kill Kashmiri minister

SRINAGAR: Guerrillas shot dead Indian Kashmir’s junior education minister and three others in a daylight attack at his home in a high-security enclave in Srinagar, said authorities on Tuesday.

Two men rode a motorbike into the fortified Tulsi Bagh area, home to senior politicians and bureaucrats, without being challenged by security, said police. The attackers burst guns blazing into the house of People’s Democratic Party’s Ghulam Nabi Lone. who was pronounced dead on arrival at Soura Medical Institute, said doctors.

Two policemen and a visitor to Lone’s bungalow were also killed along with one of the attackers in a fierce gunbattle. Two civilians and three security personnel were injured, said Social Welfare Minister Gulam Hassan Khan, Lone’s neighbour.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry condemned the attack, saying, “The Pakistani government is against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.” Two groups, the Al-Mansurian and Islamic Front, both claimed responsibility in messages sent to various media. afp


Trying To Tame The Blackboard Jungle
As more Indian children flood into schools, educators struggle to boost quality

By Manjeet Kripalani

To understand the educational challenges facing India, pay a visit to Dharavi, a poor and densely populated Bombay neighborhood. Its lanes are so small and winding that no vehicles can traverse them. Open drains run outside the crudely built brick and corrugated metal homes, and garbage is piled high every few yards. The area, where 1 million of Bombay's poorer migrants live, is Asia's largest slum.

This is the home of the Dharavi Transit Camp School, one of two in the neighborhood run by the municipal corporation. Outside the high school gates, ragged, half-naked children play amid scattered garbage. Some run in and out of the gates, but nobody stops them. There is no school guard, and the teachers who pass through don't bother. The school, four stories high, is shorn of paint and looks grim under the monsoon clouds.

It's past noon, and schoolchildren are starting to straggle in for the afternoon shift of classes. The girls wear blue pinafores, the boys blue shorts and shirts. Many are barefoot. Like most state-run schools in Bombay, the Transit Camp School runs classes up to seventh grade, in two shifts, with each floor teaching classes in a different language, reflecting the regional origins of its 6,000 students. Blackboards, tables, and benches crowd the 12 classrooms on each floor. With 100 students per class, the sessions sometimes spill into the corridors.

On this day, Gautam Dandage, a cement spreader, has brought his 8-year-old daughter, Ujwala, to school. She is doing O.K. in class but his older son, he complains, has lost his motivation. "My son failed because of the class master. He never showed up for class all year," Dandage gripes. The deputy head teacher, Sampat Bhandare, tries to shush the worried father, explaining that the teacher in question was sick and the school could not find a replacement. Dandage isn't convinced.

A day at school in Dharavi is a vivid lesson in India's education gap. In a nation striving to be a global leader in brainpower, the Transit Camp School underscores the enormous scale of India's struggle to provide adequate education for its youth. India has the world's youngest, potentially most productive population. Nearly 500 million Indians are under age 19. In primary school alone, some 202 million students are taught by 5.5 million teachers in 1 million schools.

Yet while free and compulsory primary education became law in 2001, the quality of learning is poor and the failure rate is high. Even in fifth grade, some 35% of Indian children cannot read or write, according to Pratham, India's largest education nonprofit group. According to government statistics, just a quarter of students make it past eighth grade, and only 15% get to high school. Of the 202 million who start school, only about 7%, or 14 million, graduate. And without a fully literate population, India won't easily sustain the demands and aspirations of its people or become a global power. "The government is failing our youth," says Vimala Ramachandran, an education specialist and author of Getting Children Back to School.

Increasingly, Indian parents want their children educated, particularly in English and computing. That's not only critical for youth; it's the key to India's development. Education is a "ticket out of poverty," says New Delhi economist Surjit Bhalla. Parents understand that when India began to grow in the 1980s and 1990s, the educated got better jobs -- "even if it meant going to the Gulf states and achieving blue- collar success," Bhalla notes.

But India's state system just isn't meeting people's aspirations. "It's two decades behind the population's needs," says Madhav Chavan, founder and program director of Pratham. Poor-quality teachers, a politicized education department, outdated learning methods, and the pressures Indian children face at home are just some of the roots of India's education gap. Many girls drop out of school after fourth grade, for example, to do household chores while their parents work. Just half of India's girls are literate, vs. nearly three-fourths of boys.

Indians can't blame the government for not trying to improve the situation. The Ministry of Human Resource Development has thousands of schemes aimed at enhancing educational opportunities. The most ambitious is the 2001 Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, or universal education incentive program. Its $2.4 billion annual budget provides students with a meal a day, free textbooks, medical care, and remedial classes. The Congress Party, which returned to power in New Delhi last year, is pushing the agenda even further. The government's spending on education has gone from 3% of gross domestic product last year to 4% this year, and is expected to rise to 6% soon.

These efforts are making an impact. Almost 90% of all children are now enrolled in school -- up from 75% in 2000. Yet the growth is a strain for some schools. In the poorer regions of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, class sizes are now "too large to manage," says Venita Kaul, who oversees World Bank education projects in India. The Bank is providing $500 million for the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan budget over three years until 2007.

Despite increased enrollments, graduation ratios are falling -- even in top states such as Maharashtra, where Bombay is located. This year, 57% of the 10th-grade students in Maharashtra passed their final exams -- a big drop from last year when 67% cleared the exam. "We aim for a zero dropout and failure rate," says Abasaheb Jadav, who is project director for the federal government's Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in Bombay. Good intentions aside, the experts say India's educational system faces its most serious challenges at the classroom level.

Start with the teachers. State-employed teachers earn up to $300 a month and often four times as much as private school teachers. But they are poorly trained, unmotivated, and often commandeered for other government services like election duty or overseeing polio vaccination drives. Consequently, teacher -- and hence student -- absenteeism is high. At the same time, increased enrollments -- thanks to the midday meal now required in all schools -- have caused a teacher shortage. As a result, in many schools, teachers have to handle up to four different grades at once, another blow to the quality of schooling.

Another issue is infrastructure. The government is boosting spending on schools, books, and classroom equipment, but the funding often doesn't reach the remote rural areas. In Bihar, India's poorest state, schools are crumbling buildings lacking roofs, windows, or blackboards. In Behrampur, a village about three hours away from the capital of Patna, the broken-down single-room school serves as a playground for the village's 200 children. Locals say the schoolmaster comes by every three or four days. Devbali Rai, a 30-year-old farmer, is near despair. "We want schooling. Our children must study," he says.

Please continue reading this essay at the link below:

And as bad as it is, children do want to learn, not because they understand the nature of the work force and their places in it but because they like to know things. Adults, too, they want to know. Some of them. So we draw a line between those who want to know and those who think they know already and who are determined to kill anyone who questions further the given wisdom of the place, the time, the culture.

And to bring freedom to the minds of those who wish to know we must go to the front of that battle against the evils of slavery of the mind, and we must go there armed, ready to defend by force and blood the lives and the minds of those who cannot teach themselves the freedom of thought that is the birtht-right of Everyman. There is no price too high to pay for the freedom of the world's people to chose to know.

Delivered on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963. Source: Martin Luther King, Jr: The Peaceful Warrior, Pocket Books, NY 1968

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity. But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free.

One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.

So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition. In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.

So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights.

The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges. But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" we can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring." And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado! Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California! But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia! Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

No comments: