Jamsheena’s Fellowship is made possible by the Rural India Supporting Trust.
In my last blog post, I wrote about the Peace in Education conference hosted by Vidya Vanam School. The two-days biennial conference started with a strong desire for peace as a universal idea at Vidya Vanam in Anaikatti. It opened a space for discussing various reasons for conflict and violence in the educational environments, be it schools or colleges. It paved the way for the critical analysis of factors and structures that legitimize injustice and inequality.
Most of the sessions tried to address how we can bring peace as a discourse into the learning environment so that the culture of peace becomes a part of students’ psyche. Promoting values of freedom of speech, individuality, skills of critical thinking, debate and coalition are the different approaches that empower students to be the agents of peace and agents of change. This conference was fruitful in the sense that it revisited those difficult questions that are the root cause of violence, and reinforcing values such as diversity, coexistence, gender equality, democracy and human rights that give hope for series of initiatives and new approaches focusing on peace education that leads to transformation worldwide. It will produce responsible citizens who will hold governments to the standards of peace, when citizens can exercise their personal freedoms and be legally protected from violence, oppression and indignity.
Demographic diversity is not enough for integration. Presenters discussed that we have to create communities of cultural difference. The social and cultural environment cultivates flexible minds. We all should hold our hands as peace educators and activists for a fear-free learning environment. Biologically speaking, our history as homo sapiens is a violent one for the birth of new organism. In that sense, we can’t talk about the nuances of “peace” in any kind of instrumental or literal manner.
Mindful communication was another topic of discussion, given the lack of mindfulness in our society. The method of communication is very important. There are bitter realities of caste in the classroom and among teachers, which often go unaddressed. Power relations in academic institutions clearly depict how caste permeates the Indian education system. Talking about mindful communication and the need to ask questions is needed to counter the tendencies of violence, e.g. teachers scolding students give wrong answers during a lesson, forcing them to withdraw.
We should encourage open-mindedness and confidence to make mistakes in classrooms and not be afraid of failure. That is the first step to explore, experience and learn.
We also have gender disparities in our language spaces. Language teachers have the space to make a change, but for that we need to talk about politics in education. I remember when our fifth-standard student Poovarasan began to ask questions about identity politics. “Miss, are we all Dalits”? Followed by his second question: “Whom you like more, Gandhi-ji or Ambedkar?”
As a language teacher, I can’t ignore those questions. At the same time, I need to make them understand as approachable as possible about the Dalit history in Tamil Nadu. I told them that we will talk about this topic in our next class. Then, I went back to the library and worked on the topic to prepare my lesson. As the questions showed, despite their tender age, they are well aware about their historical conflicts. During the class, they had lot more questions for the past generation, many of which may remain unanswered. I’ve seen that language classes give them space to critically think and express their minds.