Education, privilege, gratitude, responsibility

Mike Todd posted this picture of young students in a class that meets outdoors, beneath a bridge, in a New Delhi slum.

I’m reposting it here simply so I can occasionally show it to my daughters as a reminder when they have to struggle through the unpleasant parts of school.

And also because the faces of these two kids capture two different expressions that any teacher would love to see.

This photo also provides a good excuse for yet again posting one of my favorite bits from E.F. Schumacher, so let me do that as well:

Can we establish an ideology, or whatever you like to call it, which insists that the educated have taken upon themselves an obligation and have not simply acquired a “passport to privilege”? This ideology is of course well supported by all the higher teachings of mankind. As a Christian, I may be permitted to quote from St. Luke: “Much will be asked of him because he was entrusted with more.” It is, you might well say, an elementary matter of justice.

If this ideology does not prevail, if it is taken for granted that education is a passport to privilege, then the content of education will not primarily be something to serve the people, but something to serve ourselves, the educated. The privileged minority will wish to be educated in a manner that sets them apart and will inevitably learn and teach the wrong things, that is to say, things that do set them apart …

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  • Erm… keep in mind, for your daughters, the “unpleasant parts of school” might be quite different from what you, as a boy, were subject to. The most “unpleasant part of school” for me was unrelenting sexual harassment. And, for something not linked to gender, when I was the age of those kids in the picture, it wasn’t sexual harassment, but being constantly told by my classmates that I literally did not exist. I’d have traded a dirt classroom where people at least ignored me for a wealthy, supposedly comfortable U.S. classroom any day.

    By the way, are girls allowed in that particular Delhi school?

  • Kiba

    There’s a second photograph if you follow the link. I think there’s at least one girl there. In the first photo, over by the bikes, she’s looking towards the camera.

  • Münchner Kindl

     So many things wrongly assumed that Fred didn’t say …

    1. Fred didn’t say that he will use this photo (or the plight of poorer children in general) as a means to belittle the problems his daughters have at school. As far as we can judge a person based on internet articles, he’s against using people as tools; and though he has said very little about his personal life, including parenting, he seems to regard respect and listening and helping people who need it as very important.

    So “reminding his daughters occasionally” != “dismissing their problems as first world problems.”

    2. While Fred is a white hetero male, he stresses respect and listening, making it likely that his daughters come to him with problems and tell him because they know he will take them seriously. Even if his daughters (which I hope) don’t personally have unpleasant experiences, Fred reads the stories of other women being harrassed, so he’s certainly aware.

    3. Although bullying is taken for “stuff that happens in life” instead of “This is a bad thing and must be stopped!” in the US culture, there are lots of other things that can make school an unpleasant experience. Fred hasn’t said anything about what his daughters find problematic, so immediatly jumping to the conclusion they might be harrassed when it can just as easily be simply not liking a teacher or being over/underwhelmed by the curriculum is … a bit inappropriate.

    4. This is not an either/or situation: either we are aware and try to help the 3rd world children learn, or we improve the situation in schools in our country. We can do both.

    Related: when I was a kid and had unpleasant parts at school, I did wonder about all those kids in 3rd world countries who were so glad to go to school at all, (or kids in previous centuries when school cost tuition fee) and wonder if they never had to deal with demotiviation?

    Turns out that yes, even in 3rd world, proper teaching technique is important. I learned this from PLAN and other children charity orgs: First, they try to build school buildings. Then, they train teachers. At this stage, there are often 30-40 kids in one room, sitting on the floors, or being taught in shifts etc. Additionally, they have to persuade the parents to let the kids go to school instead of working in the fields, and let the girls be educated instead of only focusing on the boys.

    But then the next step is teaching teachers how to be proper pedagogics: no beating, no rote memorization, real creativity in art class (instead of copying one picture!). This is often working together with the government to change curriculums back from the 60s from colonial countries to adapt them to the needs of their own country, and teach in native languages for minorities, and teach practical important stuff like hygiene and organic gardening instead.

    Because school buildings and enough desks are not enough if 60% of school children drop out after 3rd grade because they feel dumb or because they are beaten (because the teacher doesn’t know how to keep things quiet in a class of 40+ kids).

    So the problems of first world kids also appear in 3rd world.