Issue 29, Education

Editorial

As humans, we are not born with the knowledge to survive; we have to learn. And we are constantly learning. Our education takes numerous forms from learning to communicate, learning to read, learning to parent, learning trades, learning to grow crops and harvest, learning to be a professional, learning to grieve and to die. Yet while there are countless informal educational experiences throughout our lives, the formal system of education plays a unique and essential role in our contemporary world. In fact, education is the bedrock of a healthy, thriving society.

 

Studies demonstrate that increased education provides numerous positive effects on individuals. Education leads to better quality of life, longevity, and positive health outcomes. People with higher degrees are more likely to have stable jobs with benefits (such as healthcare in countries without socialized systems of healthcare) and higher income, sparing them from the harmful effects of stress that accompany poverty. Educated people are also more likely to be able to live in neighborhoods with good school systems and easy access to amenities and leisure, which increases their wellbeing and social connectivity. Education also gives individuals the knowledge and self-confidence to be advocates for themselves, solve problems, and seek necessary assistance. Economically, the benefits are not only felt within a household; neighborhoods, states, and countries with a larger percentage of well-educated citizens are more likely to prosper and function effectively.

 

Not only are individual and community lives improved by education, but democracy only functions if people are well educated. A democratic society depends on citizens having the capacity to make well-reasoned decisions, to know their civic rights and responsibilities, and to contribute to addressing local and global challenges. Public educational systems are responsible for developing informed citizens who know how to assess information for reliability, question hearsay, and be empowered by knowledge. A healthy democracy depends on the debate and contributions of many well-informed and logical minds.

 

For these reasons and more, an equitable, non-biased educational system is one of the most valuable resources that a government and civic society can provide. This is a system in which all citizens receive excellent education, honing their critical thinking skills and enabling them to be creative contributors to society. With equal access to education, each citizen has a seat at the table — regardless of their occupation, individual skills or challenges, skin color or gender or sexuality, or economic background.

 

Given the vital role that education plays in shaping people, politics, and societies, the following should not come as a surprise: some people do not want all citizens to have equal access to an education, and some do not want certain truths to be known. Equitable access to truths, education, and a seat at the table is interpreted as a threat by those who fear losing their own status and power.

 

This special issue of Shuddhashar takes a serious look at debates and controversies around education. We consider attacks against teaching subjects like slavery, racism, and LGBT+, and the omission of histories about underrepresented groups, such as aboriginal peoples, Dalits, religious minorities, and women, and the precarious place of environmentalism in curricula. We examine debates around teaching Critical Race Theory in US schools and workplaces. We look at examples of how history has been rewritten in various contexts, including in Israeli school textbooks. We analyze religious-political movements, such as Hindutva, and authoritarian regimes, such as China, that censor what can be taught, read, published, or shown. We shed light on the obstacles religious creationists put up to thwart teaching scientific theories — the theory of evolution, for example — in the science classes. We discuss multiple threats against academic freedom, and against people who attempt to speak truth to power, and we describe ways to decolonize the academy by integrating social justice into society and the classroom.

 

How and what we teach will have long-lasting effects on our world. Given that educational systems are under threat in multiple and varied ways, how do we ensure principled civic responsibility? How do we foster a healthy and inclusive society where individuals’ voices matters precisely because they are well-informed and consider the greater good? How do we prepare teachers to prepare students for this world we live in – for their future? Shuddhashar invites you to read and engage with the articles in this issue.

Teaching Hostility: The Representation of Palestinians in Israeli Schoolbooks

Upon entering an Israeli school, one is immediately struck by slogans that proclaim “Love the other,” “Respect differences,” and “The Other Is Me!”[1] However, in view of the fraught inter-group relations prevailing in the country, the separation between Jewish and Arab schools, the quota set for Ethiopian Jewish children, and the exclusion of children of …

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Critical Race Theory: The Facts and Irony (for White People)

As nearly daily reporting in the U.S. highlights, the manufactured anger over Critical Race Theory (CRT) continues to influence directly and indirectly both public discourse as well as teaching and learning in U.S. schools. Books are being banned, and state legislation is restricting curriculum and teaching, often in response to outcries against the non-existent influence …

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Back to the Future: The Retro Politics of Contemporary Nationalisms

It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,’ says the White Queen to Alice. -Lewis Carrol, Alice in Wonderland I was born in India, considered the world’s largest democracy. I now live in the U.S., considered the world’s oldest democracies. Traveling between the two nations over the last three decades, I’ve witnessed a …

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“Decolonizing” Indians Through Hindutva Ideological Control

“A foe’s words though seeming friendly Can be read at once.” – Tamil Kural of Tiruvalluvar (trans. PS Sundaram) In the hands of the Hindu Right, “decolonize” has become a contronym. In many academic and social justice contexts, the term retains its older meaning of undoing colonizing practices and deconstructing imperial structures and analytics. In this sense, …

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The Silencing of LGBTQ Voices in U.S. Public Schools

Public education serves many functions. Among other things, it can highlight past and present inequities, particularly those suffered by historically oppressed groups. By acknowledging these injustices, schools can play an active role in achieving broader civic goals—social justice, equality of opportunity, and political empowerment (Ballantine, Hammack, and Stuber 2017). Effecting these goals necessarily involves the …

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The Prospects for a Liberal Education in China

Students are crucial drivers of protests against authoritarian injustices. We can think of numerous examples – Iran in 2009, Egypt in 2011, and Russia following the electoral falsifications in 2011-2012. In China, which is the subject of this short essay, there has been a storied history of student discontent, with the May Fourth protests against …

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Big Lies, Deep Lies in Post-Truth India

Post-truth is pre-fascist.  —  Timothy Snyder [1]   It is twilight time for democracy. In the world’s oldest and the most populous liberal democracies, the United States and India respectively, a populist, majoritarian vigilantism is slowly but steadily snuffing out the promise of multi-religious, multi-ethnic societies enjoying constitutional protections of civil liberties and equality before …

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Teaching Transgender Studies in Turbulent Times

In Australia, Britain and the USA, transgender rights are at the centre of political battlegrounds over the right of citizens to bodily autonomy, recognition, and access to medical care. In all three countries, debates over trans rights have been positioned in relationship to the right to discriminate on the grounds of religion, and the need …

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The Politics of Education in Ancient and Modern Times

Education assumes multiple forms and inhabits various contexts. Not only does it fluctuate from society to society, but even within a single society or social group its form and function can diverge widely. Such variance stems from multiple factors – the interests and powers of the state, the values and preferences of the populace, special …

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Looking Back, Moving Forward: Educational Policies in Postcolonial India – Issues, Opportunities, and Challenges

Introduction The importance of education in social and economic development requires little persuasion. Education facilitates knowledge and skills, widens and sharpens the mind and contributes to individual as well as social development (Menon 1984). The nature of education and its benefits in enhancing economic and social welfare across society elevates it to the status of …

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Learning from the American Evolution Wars

“Evolution is not a peripheral subject but the central organizing principle of all biological science,” explained the Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, reacting to a 1999 decision by the Kansas state board of education to downplay evolution in the state’s science standards, the ultimate source of guidance for Kansas’s public school science teachers. “No one …

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